I do not live, but an illusion lives through me. An illusion lives my life! An illusion drives to work every morning for me, an illusion returns home at the end of the day, an illusion sits at my dinner table and eats what’s on the plate, an illusion watches TV in the comfort of my living room, an illusion makes plans for my (it’s) future…
This is like what Colin Wilson says about the ‘internal robot’ – according to Colin Wilson the internal robot (that reliable friend) eats the expensive dinner you bought in the fancy French restaurant. It also makes love to your partner later that evening! The old internal robot does lots of stuff for you – some of which you may well prefer to do for yourself!
This situation isn’t great, obviously. I don’t want to pay sixty pounds for a meal and then let the inner robot eat it for me! Neither – presumably – do I wish my internal robot to make love to my partner (and this can obviously very easily work both ways at the same time). This really doesn’t seem right at all! And to make matters worse, this internal robot isn’t even real. There’s no one there to enjoy either the meal or the lovemaking. There is no ‘inner robot’, not really – that’s just blind habit-energy doing its thing! So – we might well ask – what the hell is all this about? What exactly is going on here?
Colin Wilson’s version of the ‘internal robot’ is perhaps easier to get to grips with initially than the ‘internal illusion’, though clearly both come to the same thing in the end. We all know that inner robot, that thief of time, that robber of our most intimate experiences, but what about the inner illusion? Our emphasis here is not greatly different from that of Colin Wilson. Colin Wilson’s internal robot is a collection of habits or reflexes which basically run themselves and go ahead and do stuff without requiring any conscious assent on our part. In fact they go ahead and do stuff without any consciousness at all on our part – the less consciousness involved the more the internal robot likes it! There is no need for conscious attention here, there is just ‘trigger’ and ‘reaction’ – a trigger comes along and then straightaway the reaction follows. What need is there for consciousness in this? All we need is a rule, such that if ‘X’ happens then ‘Y’…
Trigger and reaction is what the internal robot is made up of. Rules are what the internal robot are made up of. By long association, I get to think that I am this internal robot, and that’s why I don’t see anything amiss with it living my life for me – if I am the robot then there is no conflict of interests! Everything’s sweet! Life for me then becomes no more than the sequence of my conditioned reactions to whatever triggers come floating along in my direction. What could be simpler? As Colin Wilson says here in his (1978) book Mysteries:
If someone asks you a question while your mind is blank, note how little effort is costs to respond. Your robot does most of the work for you. And so it is with almost everything you do during your waking hours. You inhabit a machine that does most of your living for you.
Just as the internal robot lives most of my life for me therefore, so too does the internal illusion. The internal illusion is the idea that ‘I am this person’ – the idea that I am the person that I take myself to be! If the truth was that I really am the person that I seem to myself (and others) to be then of course there could be no talk of illusions, but given that I am not (and of we reflect on this for any length of time we will see the idea that ‘I am who I think I am’ is naïve in the extreme) then who I imagine myself to be has to be illusory. There can be no doubt about it! How did we ever get sold on such an idea? This is all about believing in images, which is a game. Images are images (or we could say, ‘surface-level appearances are surface-level appearances’) and that is fine but the ‘game’ that we are playing is that ‘the image is not the image’, that ‘the surface-level appearance is not a surface-level appearance’. We play the game that the image is all there is, in other words. We play the game that ‘the idea is the thing’, that ‘the world is the thing’. We play the game that ‘the construct is not the construct’…
Another way of putting this is to say that the ‘game’ is all about accepting stereotypes as if they were not stereotypes, so that the whole sense of what a stereotype is (or what stereotyped perception and stereotyped thinking is) is quite lost to us. Becoming ‘stereotyped’ happens all the time as a result of socialization since society is entirely based on stereotypes. This is how it all works: we only make sense to the world, to the people around us, when we are ‘singing from the same hymn-sheet’. This is what the process of socialization is all about – we might talk about socialization in terms of ‘the acquisition of learned behaviour’ (which doesn’t sound too bad) and leave it like that but the reality of what’s going on here is far more sinister than this. If we all learn the same behaviour (which we are) then we are – very clearly – departing from the unique and the individual and gravitating instead to the regular and the generic!
If we all sing from the same hymn-sheet (i.e. if we all adapt to the same set of rules, the same logical system) then this is just another way of saying that we are all subscribing to stereotypes. If we all see the world in the same way then this is a stereotypical perception, if we all think in the same way then this is stereotyped thinking, and if we all behave in the same way then this is stereotyped behaviour. And this is – of course – exactly what society consists of – it consists of a collection of officially approved stereotypes. So if we want to know what the process of socialization is all about then this is it – it is the process whereby the unique is converted into the regular, it is the industrial process whereby the individual person is converted into ‘the generic member of society’! We all know this very well, and yet we somehow manage to refrain from paying attention to it. If we were to attend to this awareness then the prospect would be just too unpalatable – more than being unpalatable, the awareness of what ‘socialization’ actually consists of would be frankly appalling. No one does pay attention to this. We gloss over it. We just don’t go there. And anyway, once the conversion process has set in we no longer have the capacity to see what has happened because when we see the generic in a generic way then we can no longer see that it is generic. It then becomes something else. This is therefore what Baudrillard calls ‘the perfect crime’ – it is the perfect crime because there are no witnesses left to see what has just happened.
So what happens in the process that we are talking about is that the unique is turned into the generic. Anything that is not ‘an approved stereotype’ is treated as an error to be ‘ironed out’. It is excluded from the picture. The existence of such a process can hardly be doubted – we all feel its pressure, but to the extent that we are able to ‘unconsciously adapt’ to it we are not going to notice anything happening. To the extent that we can obey the pressure the process remains quite invisible. It is generally only if we can’t adapt to the pressure that we feel the sting. If I can’t help presenting myself in a way that is ‘not quite normal’ then instead of ‘seamless acceptance’ within the social matrix what I will experience will be the ‘cold shoulder’ of non-acceptance. I will attract attention, but it will be the wrong sort of attention. I will attract negative evaluation.
The ‘great thing’ in social adaptation is not to be noticed, not to stand out. Or to put this another way, the great thing is to be taken as being the same as everyone else. Of course. Everybody knows this! This is just about the most basic thing we ever learn – this is what we learn before we learn the alphabet or before we learn how to add two and two. So this is the process of socialization in a nutshell – this is how we end up the way we generally do end up, as ‘generic human beings’. The whole system is geared up – as logical systems always are – to ‘iron out’ irregularities, to ‘correct’ anything that does not accord with the all-important formula for ‘how things ought to be’. All systems are like this, all systems are based on rules and the operation of rules only ever results in the production of regularities. No rule ever gave rise to a unique occurrence. Rules only ever produce the known, the regular – they never produce the unknown, the irregular!
In one way this seems straightforward enough and almost too self-evident to be worth making such a fuss about. Of course rules give rise to regularities. That’s the whole point of them – to make things regular, to regulate. No big surprise there. But there’s something very strange about this, no matter how straightforward it might seem on the surface. What does it mean to produce the known, to produce the regular, to produce the predictable? After all, where is the actual ‘production’ in this? Nothing is being produced – everything that happens as a result of the operation of a rule is just a repetition of what has already happened. The only thing the rule does is to make sure nothing new happens! This therefore is really what we might call an ‘inverted achievement’; reality – as Henri Bergson says – is process – it is continual change, it is a continual ‘revealing of the new’. This being so (although of course we are of course very much inclined to deny that it is so, being under the influence of the rule-based mind as we are) what sort of a thing is this business of ‘the production of the known, the production of the regular, the production of the predictable? What sort of an achievement is it to make sure that instead of the unique we have the generic? What have we actually done here?
The production of the known and the regular is therefore the same thing as the repression or denial of the movement (or ‘unfolding’) that is reality so what we have succeeded at – we could say – is the creation of some kind of unnatural (or man-made) stasis. But if reality is change and we have created stasis (i.e. if we have organized the endless reiteration of what has come before and excluded anything else) then what we’ve done is to bring about a departure from the real into something that isn’t real – something that appears to be real but which isn’t. The moment we move into a world that is created by rules (i.e. a world which is constructed out of the continual and compulsory repetition of the old) then we have moved into an illusion.
Or to put this another way, what is actually happening here (without us being able to see it) is the automated production of a virtual or propositional reality – the ‘proposition’ in question being that it is possible to construct a world on the basis of the unlimited extension or continuation of one or more definite statements. It is of course perfectly possible to make this conjecture (which is to say, it is possible for there to be such a world), but only within the terms of the conjecture that is being made! It’s only possible when we agree for it to be possible, in other words. So what we’re talking about here is a distinctly peculiar sort of a thing – we’re talking about a world that isn’t real at all but which seems to be real when apprehended in the terms which it itself takes for granted…
So, just to recapitulate what we have so far said, when we adapt to the social milieu – which is the system of rules which ensures that everyone is singing from the same hymn-sheet (i.e. which ensures that we are all members of a consistent group and not just a collection of individuals randomly thrown together in the same space) – then what has happened is that we have made the transition from ‘individual’ to ‘generic’, from ‘odd’ to ‘regular’. We have all agreed to see the world in the same way, in other words. Seeing the world in a uniform (or ‘logically-consistent’) way means that we are seeing things in accordance with a ‘fixed recipe’, in accordance with an ‘invariant formula’. There is a ‘dogma’ about it, in other words. This may not immediately seem to pose any problem but of course it does – the ‘problem’ is that seeing the world in accordance with an agreed-upon formula necessarily represses the individual point of view, and since we ultimately are individuals, this represents a thorough-going, no-holds-barred psychological disaster!
Seeing the world in terms of a fixed format necessarily represses the way that I as an individual would see it (since the way rules work is by ‘repressing irregularities’) and if the social formula (or the social formatting) represses the way I (as the individual I am) sees the world then this is actually an act of ultimate violence, no matter how we might wish to gloss over it. What could be more violent than the repression of the true individual in favour of some convenient formula, when this ‘convenient formula’ is itself not true? What we’re talking about is ‘the murder of the real’, as Baudrillard says. And it’s taking place on an industrial scale…
This isn’t just to do with society (i.e. the mass mind) – the rational mind itself presents us with a format for understanding reality. That is what the rational mind IS – it’s a system of rules designed to help us make sense of the world. Again, we may say that this (superficially speaking) seems to be fairly unproblematic; on the face of it we might say that this sounds perfectly reasonable. But there is a problem all the same – the problem is that when we use a system of rules for making sense of the world then we can only ever see what those rules allow us to see. Very obviously, the world we live in does contain predictable or regular elements and a rule-based way of seeing things will work just fine with this (just so long as we use the right rules). But the world is more than just a collection of known (or regular) elements – it is a collection of known or regular elements that exist within the context of a whole which is itself entirely irregular! We can’t regularize the whole, not matter how much we’d like to, and when we do then all that happens is that we depart from reality and enter into some kind of virtual reality construct, which we then proceed to mistake for what it is supposedly modelling…
It doesn’t matter in other words whether we are talking about adapting to the mass mind which is society or whether we are talking about adapting to the rational mind which is who we think we are – we get unwittingly diverted into a virtual reality construct either way! There is no way that this can’t happen – both the rational mind and the mass mind which is its ‘large-scale projection’ are based on rules and we can’t use a system of rules for seeing reality. This is just not going to work and the reason it is not going to work is – as we have already intimated – because rules can only ever show us what they are predisposed to showing us. Just as a rule can never give rise to a unique (i.e. a new) occurrence, so too a rule can never show us anything unique, anything new. It’s the same thing – rules do not relate us to the unique, to the ‘irregular’.
When we look at the world in terms of an agreed-upon set of interpretive rules (i.e. via some kind of formula) then all that we’re ever going to see is a projection, an extrapolation of those rules. We can of course believe this projection, this extrapolation to be reality but that is beside the point – all we’re doing in this case is adapting to a virtual reality and if we’re adapting to a virtual reality then we’re departing from what genuinely is real. We’re plugging into an illusion, we’re investing in a fantasy and there’s no way that this is going to work out well for us!
We can create any (virtual) reality we want to by involving ourselves in a collusion (i.e. by all agreeing to look at the world in the same way) but the only true reality is the one we haven’t colluded upon, the one we haven’t agreed upon. The only way to see reality therefore (rather than some crappy fiction that we have agreed to be real) is to see it as it appears to us as the true unique individuals we are. We have to give up this business of understanding everything from the basis of a collective point of view, no matter what short-term benefits there might be in it – what possible use after all is a collective view of the world that isn’t actually true for any of the people making up the collective? Who benefits in this?
A collective viewpoint always gives rise to a lie – there is no way that it can’t give rise to a lie. How can agreeing to see the world in a way that isn’t yours, in a way that isn’t true for you, result in anything wholesome? And it’s not just the case that the world we buy into as the result of social adaptation is fictitious – the moment we buy into it then we too become fictions. We become fictions living in a fictitious world. We become ghosts (or even ghosts of ghosts) enacting our dry old routines in the city of illusions.
If I am seeing a fictitious picture of the world and am at the same time believing unquestioningly in it as being non-fictitious, then this inevitably means that I too am fictitious, that I too am a fiction. When I believe unquestioningly in an illusion then I am an illusion. When I take a virtual reality construct to be ‘the real deal’ then this means that I am a virtual reality construct too. There’s no other way that this can work. This is the long and the short of it. This is how the process of adaptation works.
And contrariwise, the degree to which I am able to perceive an illusion as being an illusion is the degree to which I am not an illusion! The degree to which I am able to see that my own mental constructs are only ‘mental constructs’ (are only ‘ideas’) is the degree to which I am not a mental construct, the degree to which I am not an idea.
Or as we could also say, the degree to which I can see that the world which everyone else believes in to be an illusion is the degree to which I am actually present in my life…
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.