Via the one-way process of decomplexification (which is where the open situation is collapsed into a closed one without any acknowledgment being made of the fact) freedom (which is an unrestricted field of possibility) is replaced by compulsion-that-is-not-known-as-such (which is where we get to choose ‘freely’ between all the various options that are provided for us by the closed system which-does-not-acknowledge-itself-as-such). The most straightforward way to talk about this curious information-collapsing process is to say that the open (or symmetrical) situation is replaced by a closed polar situation, which is made up of the two complementary states of RIGHT versus WRONG, YES versus NO, or [+] versus [-]. This polar situation is inherently deceptive in that the two poles are represented (within the terms of the game that is being played here) as being both completely separate and completely different to each other – they are not seen as being the two complementary aspects of the same thing. This is ‘misrepresentation’ of the situation is crucial because it creates the impression that meaningful change can take place even though the game is a closed (or bounded) situation, in other words if I am losing at the game I imagine that if I were to turn this state of affairs around and win instead, then this would constitute a meaningful – in fact a highly meaningful – change or movement. The ‘flipping over’ of the polar situation from [+] to [-] or back again in no way constitutes genuine movement however because nothing real has changed. We’re flipping over from one side of the illusion to the other. If for example we think of the familiar optical illusion of a vase which can also be seen as two faces, we flip over for vase to faces, then back again from faces to vase, then from vase to faces, and so on. In reality there is neither vase nor faces because the apparent reality of each depends upon not seeing the other!
THE LOWER ANALOGUE OF FREEDOM
The closed system of YES/NO contains no freedom therefore, but when perspective is lost (and we get trapped in the system) then it manufactures the effective illusion of freedom, the ‘lower analogue’ of freedom. This analogue of freedom is really no more than ‘the freedom to keep on flipping over from side of the illusion to the other! We call one side of the illusion WINNING and the other LOSING and so the ‘false’ sort of freedom that we have here in this game is ‘the freedom to win and not lose’. We very much believe in the freedom to win’ and for us this is the most important freedom of all – it constitutes the only type of freedom we are interested in, in fact! But YES or NO, WIN or LOSE are only ever the two sides of the same old coin, and so there is no genuine freedom at all. The only type of freedom we have is the false freedom ‘to go round in circles whilst thinking the whole time that we are actually getting somewhere’. John G Bennett calls this type of freedom negative freedom, which is the ‘freedom not to be free’.
Although this inverted form of freedom looks like the real thing, and the conditioned self doesn’t experience its own conditioning, the fact of the conditioning does manifest itself all the same. Conditioning means that there is ‘a lack of leeway’ and although we can’t see this lack of leeway it shows itself in the particular quality of flat, humourless compulsiveness that has entered into our behaviour. Instead of doing whatever I am doing in a ‘light’ way, with the possibility present at every moment of changing tack and doing something else (or not doing anything at all, even) I am ‘wooden’ and ‘driven’ about it, I am ‘heavy’ and ‘concrete’. I am going along with whatever it is not because I genuinely want to be but because there is no possibility of me doing otherwise. My perception is that I actually want to do whatever it is that I am doing but this is clearly not the case because if anything starts to go wrong, if anything threatens to thwart the progress in carrying it through, then immediately I experience one of two things – either I feel anxious, fearful and full of dread, or I feel irritated, angry and frustrated. In both cases the underlying message is that it is most definitely NOT OK for the goal in question not to be achieved and the way that I react to this absolute lack of leeway depends upon my habitual psychological make-up: either I externalize the pain or distress that I am feeling and visit it upon someone (or something) else, or I internalize it and punish myself instead. In both cases I have to do something with the pain so either I displace it externally (which is ‘acting-out’) or I displace it internally (which is ‘repression’). Either way it is abundantly clear who the boss is and it isn’t me! I have to enact whatever conditioned motivation it is I am experiencing and as soon as I am for whatever reason unable to successfully enact it then the brutally uncompromising nature of the underlying compulsivity of the motivation is unceremoniously revealed.
THE UNSPOKEN THREAT
Because there is something marvellously ‘transparent’ about anger as a strategy of deflection or displacement we can use it to demonstrate the idea that conditioned existence revolves around pain (or fear). Suppose that I am trying to achieve some aim or other and you come along and for some reason thwart me in the fulfilment of what I am trying to do. If anger happens to be my preferred modality of pain displacement then the chances are of course significantly in favour of me losing my temper with you when this happens. Beforehand – when I was successfully obeying the conditioned motivation – I was experiencing no pressure, no compulsion. I felt perfectly OK in myself. As soon as a spanner is placed in the works however this pressure, this compulsion, instantaneously manifests itself and so we can clearly see that it must have been there all the time. Its non-manifestation was dependent upon me correctly doing whatever it was that I was supposed to be doing! When thwarted this pressure immediately descends upon me but instead of seeing the pain for what it is, experiencing it ‘where it belongs’, I automatically deflect it on to you. The way that this pain-deflection shows itself is by me getting angry with you, yelling at you, saying nasty things to you, and one way or another making you feel bad. We can say therefore that whereas before the pain of conditioning was invisible, the moment the spanner is placed in the works it appears, apparently out of nowhere, showing us that it must have been – in fact – present the whole time.
This is analogous to the situation where there is a beaker containing a supersaturated solution of a colourless salt – something like sodium acetate for example – prior to the judicious addition of a seed crystal of the salt. Beforehand I might declare that there is nothing there in the beaker apart from the transparent water; when you come along however and add the seed crystal the whole beaker goes white as a mass of solid sodium acetate crystals are abruptly and (for me at least) unexpectedly precipitated out of the solution. In the same way we can say that conditioned motivation appears to everyone concerned be spontaneous and lacking in the taint of external coercion until it is blocked, when a certain undeniable ‘ugliness’ visibly enters the picture. This ‘ugliness’ is the tangible manifestation of the unspoken threat that always exists behind the scenes wherever there is conditioning – it is the unveiling of the brutal iron fist behind the civilized velvet glove. The majority of our ‘purposeful behaviour’ and ‘purposeful thinking’ is like this – we fondly imagine that the purposes and goals, the thoughts, notions and beliefs which we entertain everyday are ours, we imagine that ‘they serve us’. The unpalatable truth is that we serve them rather than the other way around. We belong to them, and not vice versa.
Another way of approaching the matter of invisible compulsion attendant upon conditioned (or ‘constrained’) existence is to look at the actually nature of our dominant motivation in everyday life, which is the drive to succeed at whatever task it is we are engaged in. We can say that the brutally oppressive pressure of our underlying ‘unfree situation’ shows itself in terms of the intensity of the motivation to succeed within the terms of the game, i.e. we experience this uncompromising pressure as the ‘need to win’. ‘Winning’ – for us – represents the possibility of release from the pressure we are living under, only instead of seeing winning as a relief from pain we see it positively, as a great and wonderful outcome in its own right. The underlying pain (or pressure) of our constrained is after all invisible to us, taken for granted by us, and so – naturally enough – we relate to the cessation of this taken-for-granted pressure as the ‘production of a positive’, rather than the ‘elimination of a negative’. Motivationally speaking, both of course come down to exactly the same thing, and the result of seeing things backwards like this is that we perceive ourselves to possess free volition rather than being externally compelled. We perceive ourselves to be ‘freeing striving to obtain a positive outcome’ rather than being driven relentlessly forward by the need to escape the ever-present threat of the lash. We perceive ourselves to be free and self-determining men and women, rather than the hapless unfortunate slaves of whatever conditioning it is that we have randomly acquired along the way!
So what we have here is the remarkable situation where the lack of genuine spaciousness (the lack of any real ‘possibility’ other than the one we’re stuck with) which is inherent in the conditioned version of reality gets turned into the motivating factor which drives all the action in the game. The lack of spaciousness translates into what we might call ‘a love of progress’, a ‘love of moving forward’; it translates into a passion for ‘getting things done just for the sake of getting things done’. It turns into the worship of winning and winners, and a fear or horror of losing and of being somehow contaminated with the taint of ‘being a loser’. The very currency of the conditioned realm is the possibility or prospect of linear, ‘progressive’ change and the fantastic irony here is that this adulation of ‘positive change’ derives from the fact that in a game, in the conditioned situation, nothing ever changes. Saying that in the game the progressive factor is adulated is another way of saying that what a game has instead of intrinsic value is extrinsic value. ‘Extrinsic’ means ‘on the outside’: the value of the game is not in the game, but ‘out there’ somewhere; the value is not where we are right now, but just ahead of us – it is not ‘where we are now’ but ‘where we are going’. Extrinsic value is a carrot that is forever being dangled in front of our noses, in other words – it is the ‘promised land’ which we keep on hearing about but which we never ever reach. We can’t ever reach it – obviously – because it is never where we are right now.
Extrinsic value is therefore just coercion under a different name. It is as we have said what drives all activity in the game – there is a ‘logical surface’ which we have to follow, that we have to adhere to, and then – if we faithfully obey the protocols – then we will obtain the value, then we will reach the promised land. The continuum of logic which informs the logical pathways thus becomes indispensable to the whole thing, to life itself, even though it is logic which gets between us and life, which acts as an insurmountable obstacle between us and genuine freedom. The logical continuum is thus a state of terminal ‘non-freedom’ which sells itself as the sole means to freedom, if not freedom itself. Freedom is the original situation, it is ‘what was there all along’, whereas the logical introject is a mere interloper – an unnecessary and vastly inferior copy at that. If the logical introject were truthful about itself (like a used-car salesman who admits to selling crappy cars that are guaranteed to fall to pieces within a week at the most) then obviously it would never get any customers. But it does get customers – it corners the market in fact – and the reason it corners the market is because it sells itself as the means to freedom, the means to life itself. So logic provides us with a ‘surface’ that we are to adhere to like glue, a methodology we are to faithfully follow, and then – if and only if we follow the rules absolutely correctly – we can at last obtain the value that has been promised. Then we will get ‘the good stuff’. So it is that we buy into the game and as soon as we do buy into the game we are caught in the stark ‘black-and-white prison’ of duality; we are caught between the seductive promise of the positive outcome on the one hand and the terrifying threat of the negative outcome on the other.
Between these two tyrannical claims on our attention there is simply no ‘space’ left for us to be thinking in any other way, there is no freedom. We are being told what is right and what is wrong, and we are squashed between the two; there is no space here, there is only ‘right’ and ‘wrong’. Or we could say that we are presented with the very good outcome and the very bad outcome – both of which are artifacts of the system – and then, helpfully, we are provided with a fully-mapped out way of obtain the former and avoiding the latter, and this ‘way’ is of course also the system. All of this business makes a total claim, a total demand, on our attention; there is none left over, there is no ‘free consciousness’. Even if there was a tiny scrap of free consciousness left over (as result perhaps of there being an un-programmed slack period, an unexpected bit of down-time) then it would not know where else to go, what else to do, because the channels the consciousness flows in are provided by the system – there simply isn’t any other way of looking at the world other than the way the system provides for me, other than the way which is the system. Even if we say that the system (i.e. the logical introject) were to be miraculously removed and gotten rid of, this still wouldn’t help us to be free because our consciousness has now been thoroughly institutionalized, and it can no longer ‘stand on its own two feet’. If the conditioning were to be removed, we would run around in abject terror, begging for our cosy prison cell to be restored to us.
The trick of the logical introject is therefore to pile on the pressure big time and simultaneously provide a convenient way to defuse or displace this pressure. Our insecurity is such that we immediately buy into the scheme – we gratefully buy into it. This is like the Church in the middle ages telling the populous from an early age just how very bad indeed hell and how extremely desirable a state heaven is and informing them how they will definitely go to hell if they don’t obey the protocols, if they don’t do all the things that the Church tells them to do. This trick – like the Pope – is utterly infallible and the result was that just about the entire population bought into the scheme that was Christianity. The Christian introject was here to stay, and the idea of not subscribing to this particular system was simply a none-starter. After we do buy into the logical introject martial law is straightaway enforced – there is a ‘lock-down’ and the only activity that goes on is activity that has been approved by the military authority. Lock-down becomes a way of life and the name of the lock-down is ‘the continuum of logic’. Because the lock down is so total we cannot see it as a restriction at all – it is simply ‘the way things are’ we adapt to it – the continuum of logic becomes the whole world, the limit of what is possible. The system is EVERYTHING – it is the beginning and the end, the alpha and the omega, and everything in-between.
WHEN THE SYSTEM IS EVERYTHING
The conditioned world is a world that is wholly artificial, it is a construct, a game, a domain that is – outside of its own entirely arbitrary terms – quite meaningless, and yet when we are under its spell it is all we are interested in. This world is a null-world; no matter how many times we run though what it has to offer, it always comes to the same thing – it is always perfectly ‘self-cancelling’ or ‘self-contradicting’. The self-defeating and self-tormenting quality of life when lived in its most ‘basic,’ ‘mechanical’ or ‘unreflective’ modality was dramatically and uncompromisingly represented in alchemy by the motif of the leaden homunculus, the man of lead, who “impales himself with a sword’ whose eyes become blood, who spews forth his own flesh and changes into “the opposite of himself” (description taken from the Visions of Zosimos, as commentated upon by C.G. Jung). There is no future for the leaden man holds nothing but suffering – it is his lot to undergo “unendurable torment” and yet it is through this torment that the essential alchemical transformation is able to take place, the transformation from the heaviness and hopeless opacity of lead into philosophical gold, which is obtained through the fusion of all conceivable opposites. This ‘final product’ of the alchemical process is also paradoxically understood as the divine source of all things, the origin of everything, and thus the philosophical gold (or Lapis) was also seen as the Divine Hermaphrodite, the Original Man, Homo maximus or Adam Kadmon.
The conditioned world, like the leaden homunculus, is quintessentially self-defeating, self-cancelling and the reason it is self-defeating and self-cancelling is because the opposites are held apart, because the opposites are not ‘seen as one’. No matter what might seem at the time to be happening in the conditioned realm (which is the realm of the rational mind) it always comes to nothing at all, it can be relied upon to go nowhere, it can be relied upon to always come right back to where it started. This is the essence of self-frustration. The activity in question seems meaningful when we are in it, it gives the appearance that it is getting us somewhere, that it is going somewhere, but when we wake up or ‘come to’ we realize that we haven’t gone anywhere, we realize that actually nothing happened at all. It was all just a frantic, high-speed illusion, like a crappy five-minute cartoon on TV that we have seen too many times already, but which we somehow get caught up in watching again. The conditioned realm has its own time, so to speak, which can go on and one forever when we’re in it, but once we’re ‘out of it’ we realize that the linear time which is manufactured by the conditioned world doesn’t take up any ‘real time’ at all. It is essentially ‘a cheat’. The activity that takes place in the ‘lower analogue’ which is the conditioned realm (Philip K Dick’s ‘Type-2 Universe’) is strictly deterministic in nature. It is ‘prefigured’ right from the beginning. There is no way that it can’t be deterministic – after all, there is nothing that can be done, nothing that can be thought, nothing that can be communicated, that is not permitted by the all-determining system. The ‘lock-down’ of logic means that there is nothing that can be done, thought, or said that is not the system, and the system is – in itself – perfectly and immaculately null. We are not just contained – we are contained within an empty abstraction. We are not just ‘bound’ – we are bound to a nullity.
THE DETERMINISTIC NATURE OF THE TYPE-2 UNIVERSE
Just to summarize what we have been saying so far, the reason the activity taking place in the lower analogue world is deterministic is because it is ‘dictated’ all the way by the logical surface that, for the inhabitants of that world, constitutes the whole of reality. If we as inhabitants of the Type-2 Universe had recourse to un-programmed space then our actions and thoughts would not be deterministic in nature, but then again – if we had access to un-programmed or intrinsic space (as opposed to the extrinsic space of the system of logic) then we would not be in Philip K Dick’s Type-2 Universe in the first place. As things stand however, we are trapped on the abstract, two-dimensional surface which is the only reality registered by the rational mind and we lack the ‘perspective’ needed to see that it is only a 2-D surface we are obeying – and indeed inhabiting – and so our modality of being is ‘strictly deterministic’. As we have said, this is one way in which the inherent redundancy of the formal world manifests itself, and as we have also indicated, the other – more obvious – manifestation of that redundancy is its complete lack of content. There is nothing in the formal world created by the system of thought – there is no more ‘something in it’ than there is a roast beef dinner with roast potatoes and Yorkshire pudding and veg and gravy in the menu on the table of a restaurant. The formal system of our thoughts may contain a referent to a feasts but not actually the feast itself. It is therefore the home of either attractive or repulsive images, in unending multitude. Images galore are produced here – non-stop images, all day long, all year round, with never a break. Bollywood, Hollywood or Nollywood has nothing on this production studio.
The system of thought is a finger pointing – it is always pointing either to something attractive or to something aversive in character. This finger points anywhere but itself (naturally enough, a pointing finger cannot point at itself). This inability means that the system of thought cannot see itself (or understand itself) for what it is. What it is isn’t anything, but what it subjectively appears to be, or ‘gives off as being’ is – we might say – coloured by the nature of the image that it is pointing to at the time. There doesn’t seem to be anything illegitimate or deceptive in the act of pointing at something but there is catch here – a very sizeable catch, at that – and this catch derives from the fact that a game necessarily contains no ‘internal referents’ to the fact that it is a game. Thus, because it is the quintessential nature of a thought that it doesn’t announce itself as being ‘only a thought’ the system of thought is pointing finger that somehow manages not to point outside itself! This is a remarkable achievement no matter how you look at it and the way the system of thought manages to pull of this trick is to split itself in two. That thought does somehow contrive to split itself in two is of course inherent in the idea of ‘projection’. So when an image, either attractive or aversive in character, is being pointed to, thought is both the pointing finger and that which is being pointed to!
What thought is doing here is splitting itself off from its own productions. It reaches out to produce an image and then says that it didn’t. This is of course an implicit rather than an explicit claim – if thought we do deny producing the projection, the image, then this would be like a man who by sleight of hand manages to steal a piece of fruit off a stall in the market, and then – after having accomplished this – draws attention to themselves by running around telling everyone that they didn’t steal it. Part of stealing the fruit is staying quiet about the whole thing. What we are talking about here is very reminiscent of the following passage from Berger and Luckman’s classic work in sociology The Social Construction of Reality, (1966, p 106-7) –
Reification is the apprehension of human phenomena as if they were things, that is, in non-human or possibly supra-human terms. Another way of saying this is that reification is the apprehension of the products of human activity as if they were something other than human products – such as facts of nature, results of cosmic laws, or manifestations of divine will. Reification implies that man is capable of forgetting his own authorship of the human world, and, further, that the dialectic between man, the producer, and his products is lost to consciousness. The reified world is, by definition, a dehumanized world. It is experienced by man as a strange facticity, an opus alienum over which he has no control rather than as the opus proprium of his own productive activity.
In this way, as the authors say, ‘man is capable paradoxically of producing a reality that denies him’. What we are talking about is – not to put too fine a point on it – a trick or device, and the thing about this trick or device is that, as Berger or Luckman say, that it is a trick that is against ourselves. We are ‘the victims of our own device’. We create a mechanical world, a world which has no freedom in it, and then we deliver ourselves over to this dehumanized world, this entrapping device, and abandon ourselves to it. This is the ‘paradoxical act’ that each one of us performs every single day of our lives, without ever thinking anything of it. We might find the idea of the alchemists of the leaden homunculus who in his sad, self-defeating state of being is constantly raining blows on himself, striking himself and biting himself, a grotesquely strange and fantastically uncouth one, but this ‘self-thwarting’ and ‘self-tormenting’ motif underlies the fundamental nature our own everyday existence.
To go back now to the problem of how it feels to be ‘as thick as a brick’, where the word ‘thick’ in this case doesn’t indicate any sort of intellectual short-fall but rather a certain type of obtuseness, an obtuseness with regard to anything that isn’t entirely literal or ‘concrete’. What we are interested here is the question of how it feels to be the ‘unconscious man’, the ‘man of lead’, the adapted man, the man who is the complete product of his own rational thinking process. ‘Objectively’ – if we can say such a thing in an infinitely relativistic universe – the situation of the leaden man is dire. For a start, my attention is thoroughly robotized, it is glued to where the ‘pointing finger’ points. “It’s over there…” says the finger and like a dummy I look over there. “No,” says the finger again, “it’s over there!” and straightaway, as obediently as a puppet on a string, I look that way instead. Constantly I am being tricked, and I never see the ‘tricker’. Where my attention goes there goes the rest of me too – my emotional responses, my sense of meaning and volition, my sense of well-being or otherwise, my engagement with the world itself is all at the mercy of the puppet-master which is the rational mind. As a result of this servitude my whole life is liable to become a roller-coater ride, tilting hectically this way and that.
What I am after, or avoiding, are the images produced by the system of thought and yet everything – the whole ‘show’ is run on the very same system. Just as a programme is run on a computer both my idea of myself and the attractive or aversive images to which I am automatically reacting are all ‘run’ on the system of thought. It all exists on the same continuum; there’s nowhere else for it to exist. If only we could see clearly we would see that there is no space anywhere to be had in the continuum of thought – the ‘one who reacts’ and the ‘trigger of the reaction’ are one and there is no gap between the two! The whole thing is, ‘objectively’ speaking, an utterly claustrophobic nightmare which somehow – amazingly enough – I do not generally see as such. I simply do not have the perspective to see that I have no perspective. I am in the ghastly situation of being utterly ‘perspective-less’ – not to put too fine a fine a point on it, I am too stupid to see that I am stupid.
THE SELF-TORMENTING ‘LEADEN MAN’ OF ZOZIMOS
My perspective-less actions and reactions invariably rebound on me: having zero perspective means that I perceive [+] and [-] as being two separate or independent things, rather than as Gurdjieff says being the two ends of the same stick. Having zero perspective means that I can’t see the stick – I only see the end that is right there in front of my nose, be it the [+] end or the [-] end, the attractive pole or the repulsive pole. Not seeing the stick as a stick, and not seeing the two opposites as being interdependent and complementary, I either push at or pull at my end. Either way, the end that I don’t want – the other end – will invariably come flying around and catch me a good crack around the side of the head. Whether we call it lack of perspective, short-sightedness, one-sidedness or ‘blinkeredness’ makes no difference – not seeing the whole picture and focussing narrowly only on what is right in front of our noses inevitably translates into tripping oneself up and generally scuppering one self every step of the way. I may displace the blame elsewhere – as is my prerogative – but the cause of the trouble lies right here at home and not anywhere else.
We can conveniently characterize the state of zero perspective, the unconscious state, the ‘leaden’ or ‘mechanical’ state of mind as being one that is at all times quite literal. In this mode we make statements that are ‘flatly true’, ‘final’, ‘concrete’, ‘definite’ and so on. Needless to say, these definite statements or descriptions go to make up the everyday reality of our lives – they constitute the world we live in, the everyday world which we take so much for granted. On the face of it, this literal modality is perfectly free from self-contradiction and self-frustration and from any hint or indication of glitchiness and thorny paradoxicality. But only on the face of it. When we look beneath the unproblematic surface, beneath the ‘neat-and-tidy’ exterior, we find flat uncompromising self-contradiction staring us right in the face. It has to be admitted that this assertion regarding the inherently self-contradictory nature of all definite statements is highly unlikely to convince many people. It flies in the face of common sense, and inasmuch we are sworn never to question our own self-evident everyday way of understanding the world we are certainly not going to accept the suggestion that the literal truths upon which we unreflectively base our lives are ‘nonsensical’. How is a literal statement self-contradictory? How does it rebound on itself, and become, like the self-tormenting leaden man encountered by Zozimos of Panopolis in his celebrated mystical vision, ‘the opposite of itself’?
Hard though it is to see the answer to such questions, when the insight does come it comes with the force and abruptness of a thunderclap – of course all definite statements, all literal descriptions are self-contradictory! A positive statement, no matter what it is, always indicates the presence of ‘an issue’, and an issue – by definition – embodies the tension that exists between two contradictory possibilites. For example, if I insist that I did take the dog out for a walk then this statement exists in a state of dynamic tension with the complementary statement, which is of course the statement that I did not take the dog for a walk. If there was no tension there between one opposite and the other (i.e. if it wasn’t an issue), then I simply wouldn’t make the statement about me definitely having taken the dog out in the first place. And contrariwise, the fact that I did come out with it implies the tension – it implies the opposite to what I just said, which is of course exactly what I didn’t want to do. Thus, the harder I try to put the matter to bed the more it jumps out of bed again, the more I try to draw a line under the business the more it spills out over the line, and the more I try to finish with it once and for all the more I start it up again. The classic example of this is where I suddenly, and apparently unnecessarily, come out with a protestation of my innocence; the reason I am so keen to get the message across that “I didn’t do it!” is clearly because – in my own mind – there is some suggestion that I did indeed do it, and so I need to make it absolutely clear that I didn’t. What I never realized in my haste to clear my name is that by opening my mouth I have immediately made it obvious to everyone that I very probably did do whatever it is that I am denying doing – I have ‘protested too much’, as Shakespeare says. This therefore is a classic instance of self-thwarting, self-sabotaging, of shooting oneself in the foot, of inadvertently digging a deep hole for oneself and then falling headfirst into it. By taking the trouble to definitely and unambiguously say one thing, I actually say the opposite.
So when we say something definite, something ‘for sure’, what is happening is that we are by doing this distracting attention away from the complementary position. This situation is therefore two–sided – it consists of two opposing statements which exist side-by-side, or ‘in juxtaposition’. What we are doing when we make a definite statement is that we are slanting that situation; we are tipping it one way or another by effortful means, making what is inherently two-sided into something that is apparently one-sided. It could be said that we achieve this by pushing the unwanted opposite away, or it could be said that we pull off the trick by making our attention blinkered (or one-sided), so we only see the one opposite and not the other. It all comes down to the same thing – a type of carefully contrived superficiality, a specialized or modified type of awareness which is quite blind to the self-evident fact that YES and NO are eternally conjoined, the two sides of the same thing, rather than being independent entities which can be kept separate. This ubiquitous ‘rational blindness’ is easily demonstrated – all we have to do is to contemplate the cybernetic paradox [YES = NO] to see if this seems like sense or nonsense to us.
To an ancient Chinese sage the statement that YES equals NO would offer no challenge in understanding at all, whereas to the modern rationally-adapted mind it appears like the ultimate in absurdities. This is because – as Jung says – the rational faculty operates by separating the opposites; our modality of apprehending the world around us is inherently one-sided and this is why we are forever going around in circle, rather than getting somewhere new. Again, the proof of this assertion is all around us – the risk-avoiding, security-worshipping modality of living that we are all culturally ‘locked–into’ is one that cherishes old patterns of thinking and behaving and resists change at all costs, it is immensely conservative despite all its claims to the contrary. We are brought up to believe in the great god ‘progress’ but all progress means is never questing our basic assumptions and pushing ahead with them no matter what the cost; ‘progress’ is a secret code-word for putting all our efforts into ‘optimizing our game’ – blindly and obstinately forging ahead with our tired old agendas despite all the evidence that the game in question is utterly disastrous.
Just because we slant the picture and put all our efforts into repressing the unwanted opposite so that it no longer registers on our conscious attention doesn’t mean that we have gotten rid of it, it doesn’t mean that we have ‘got it sorted’! All that happens is that a state of tension is established such that the unwanted opposite gets pushed or held down so that it is – at least temporarily – out of sight. Really all that has happened is that we have unwittingly entered into a game of ‘postponing the inevitable’ since what goes up must one day come down and what goes down must one day come up. What has actually happened is that we have entered into a cycle because whenever there is a displacement of the underlying medium in a ‘positive’ direction an equal and opposite displacement in the negative direction is sure to follow just as – in the Buddhist metaphor – a cart is bound to follow the horse that pulls it. Where there is a crest of a wave there must also be a corresponding trough; as Alan Watts says, no one ever saw a crest without a trough or a trough without a crest! The effort that is put into displacing the medium manifests both as a crest and a trough, as both [+] and [–], and thus my effort, which I mean or intend to cause the outcome which I am attracted to, also causes the opposite outcome, the outcome to which I feel aversion.
This is the psychological truth to which we are both individually and collectively blind to in our heedless dedication to the god of ‘success’, ‘progress’, and ‘positive outcomes’. To start off with we have the ‘undisplaced medium’, which is the state of Original Symmetry. After one-sided effort is put into this situation then dissymmetry is created, a dissymmetry which consists equally of YES and NO. The dissymmetry is symmetry in disguise – it is ‘staggered’, a delay or interval has been introduced into the equation that creates the illusion of separate opposites, the illusion of ‘obtaining the one without the other’, and it is only within the virtual environment created by this interval that the rational mind is able to find its purchase. Take away the highly precarious ‘time-lag’ and the apparently substantial virtual realm goes out of the window in a flash – everything, the whole shebang, the whole damn thing. Everything we know and are familiar with derives from this ‘accounting trick’ by which the polar opposites are kept separate, kept apart from each other. In symmetry not even the slightest purchase is possible, there is no ledge or platform upon which we might build our house – there is not in fact any sort of a crack or groove by which even the most skilled mountain climber could manage to keep a foothold. In symmetry there is no ‘characterization’ whatsoever, and therefore there is no possibility of gaining a toehold, any more than there is with a sheer cliff-face of glassy ice. As Jesus says (somewhat enigmatically) in Mathew 8:20,
Foxes have holes and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head.
Original Symmetry is not lenient towards any sort of spin-doctoring, it does not offer any leeway with regard to slanting things this way or that way, creating this sort of a picture or that sort of a picture. There is no possibility of ‘fudging’ matters here – of wangling a niche for oneself. The dissymmetrical state of affairs on the other hand is like a corrupt local authority which will tolerate any abuse of power just so long as it gets a cut out of it – anything goes really, the only proviso being that the system itself must benefit in some way. The symmetrical state of affairs on the other hand is like a very honest friend who will never humour you no matter what – he or she will never take any crap or put up with any nonsense. The symmetrical state of affairs ‘is what it is’ and there is no leeway for ‘making it what you want it to be’. We could also express this key idea in mathematical terms and say that by separating the two poles a logical continuum is created, a continuum within which it is possible to define specific, mutually-exclusive positions such that any question regarding any particular position can be answered in ‘closed terms’. ‘Closed terms’ simply means that the question is capable of being answered definitively, completely, with absolute finality. So if I ask if the spoon is in the cutlery drawer you can answer me by saying either ‘YES’ or ‘NO’ and whatever answer you give will be 100% unambiguous and 100% complete. This is the ‘leeway’ afforded by the continuum of logic, which is as we have said a sort of virtual (or ‘let’s pretend’) environment created by the impossible act of separating the opposites.
Outside of the artificially contrived situation which is the continuum of logic, no ‘exclusively true’ answers to questions are permitted. So if I ask if the spoon is in the cutlery drawer then you could answer ‘YES’, and if I then ask if the spoon is somewhere else other than in the drawer you can also answer ‘YES’. The answer to all possible questions is ‘YES’ and the answer to all possible questions is also at one and the same time ‘NO’ and this is precisely the meaning of the word ‘symmetry’. Within symmetry there are no positions – there are no places to ‘be’.
In short, logic is quite meaningless in Symmetry – there is no possibility whatsoever of ever making any kind of definite statement. After all, if I make such and such a statement, then at one and the same time I am also making the ‘equal and opposite statement’ and so I am actually saying nothing at all. Within the asymmetrical state of the rational realm however I do as we have said have a bit of a leeway to make positive statements of one sort or another – locations exist within the framework of meaning which is the continuum of logic, there are places to be and the rule is now that I have to choose a place. I have to be either here or there – I have to exist somewhere within the framework that is provided for me by the system of thought, and once I am in one particular box, one particular slot, one particular category, then the laws of logic mean that I can’t be in any other.
The logical continuum thus provides us with the possibility of being able to make positive statements, which on the face of things might seem like an advantage, a progressive movement, but at the very same time that it bestows this apparent ‘benefit’ it takes away our freedom, the unconditional freedom which is intrinsic or unconditioned space. The benefit that we are talking about here is deceptive in nature however because what is given in the one movement is taken away in the next. Because the asymmetrical realm grants us the possibility of seeing the opposites as separate, and allows us therefore to make positive statements about the world, what happens is that we invest in the positive statements that we have made, being unaware as we are that the statements in question are positive only in a strictly ‘qualified’ sense. What happens is that I start ‘building a house’ – more than a house, I start building a whole housing estate. I start building a whole city, I start constructing a whole ‘positive universe’. This investment is therefore extremely unwise. It is a mistaken investment, a kind of an error – not in any moral sense but rather in purely pragmatic kind of a way. It is an error in a pragmatic way simply because the result of the investment, rather than being to my advantage as I imagine, turns out to be to my very great disadvantage. I am chasing pleasure and satisfaction but what I reap is pain and despair, and so in this very down-to-earth sense we can say that it is a ‘mistaken’ effort.
The disturbance in the ‘underlying medium’ which is Original Symmetry is propagated indefinitely just so long as I keep putting effort into perpetuating it, and the way I perpetuate it is by straining towards my positive projections, and away from the negative ones. The way I perpetuate the disturbance in the medium is therefore by continuing to live unconsciously, by continuing to think and behave the way I always do, the way in which I am conditioned to do by the system of thought. We can on the one hand say that the disturbance which is being propagated indefinitely is made up by all my issues, all my attachments, all of the literal ideas that I can’t help taking seriously. We can also say that the disturbance which is being propagated on the medium of Intrinsic Space just as a wave is propagated upon the surface of the sea is the conditioned self, the conditioned (or literal) sense I have of being ‘me’. The disturbance is the collection of issues, and it is also the one who takes all these issues seriously. The disturbance is both the ongoing drama and the one who compulsively takes part in the drama…
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.