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Living in the Defined World

When everything is defined for us then there is no space. There is no space left any more for things to be any way other than the way they have already been defined as being.



And yet having everything defined for us, so that everything ‘is what it is supposed to be’, feels good – there is something thrilling about it, something promising about it, something terribly seductive about it. When we first come across a designed space to explore and move into we feel euphoric – we feel as if we are actually gaining something. This is the curious thing – we are losing space, losing freedom to move and think as we please, and yet at the same time we feel that we are gaining something.



When we are presented with a designed world, a defined and regulated world, a predetermined world, all that is required of us is that we have to ‘accept’ it (or ‘buy into it’), and then – having accepted it, having bought into it, that we learn how to fit into it, how to adapt to it, how operate effectively within it. This adaptation process requires, therefore, only a very small part of ourselves – it requires technical cleverness (the ability to learn rules and use them skilfully) but not creativity or originality. There is no space in the designed world for creativity or originality…



In the initial phase of the process in which we adapt ourselves to the system everything feels good, everything feels great, and we can hardly wait to get stuck into it. All is rosy. It’s all ahead of us… But the thing is that there is a concealed problem, a problem that we have yet to become aware of. The problem which we are blissfully unaware of is that the defined world doesn’t ever really deliver – not like we thought it would. There is glitch in the dream, a flaw in the system, a bug in the program. Things are not what they seem. Quite simply, the ‘flaw’ is that the defined world is never ever going to be as good as we thought it was going to be…



The system, the structure, the defined set-up can’t ever be as good as we think its going to be because its always going to be limited, because its never going to be any more than a ‘finite thing’. The reason we can say this is of course because anything that has been defined has to be limited, has to be finite. The whole thing about the process by which something is ‘de-fined’ is that we are drawing a line, is that we are putting a limit on it. Saying where something begins and where it ends is how we define stuff – otherwise the stuff doesn’t get defined at all, it stays undefined…



So we define something, which is fine, and we get a ‘finite thing’ as a result, which is what we wanted so that’s fine too, but where the problem comes in is that I don’t really understand what I’ve done – I understand whatever it is that I have defined (or whatever it is that somebody else has defined for me) as being somehow more than it really is. I ascribe a value to it, a quality to it, that it just doesn’t have. Really, the defined object, the defined world is only what it is and it does only what it is designed to do, and there is no problem with this. But the thrill of excitement I initially feel about buying into the defined world, the sense of euphoria that I experience, is not about this prosaic reality at all – the excitement I feel, the euphoria I experience, is about some kind of unconscious (or unexamined) idea that I have the world. The excitement comes about as a result of a projection that I am unwittingly superimposing onto the finite or defined world; the attraction that I am feeling arises because of the way in which this world unconsciously symbolizes something for me – something that I am not directly aware of.



So I’m not getting excited about the thing itself but what it unconsciously represents for me. There is a mix-up, a mistake of sorts, a mixed communication, a confusion. The question now, therefore, is when I am attracted to this defined world, when I buy into this defined reality, why does it look so good to me? What exactly am in mistaking it for? What am I confusing it with?



The simplest way of answering this question is to say that what I am confusing the ‘finite object’ which is the defined world with is the ‘non-finite’ or the ‘infinite’. So this confusion of the infinite with the finite, the unbounded with the bounded, is what makes the defined reality look so full of promise to me. Alternatively, if we say that the defined object is, by virtue of the very fact that it is defined, contained within the linear (which is to say, sequential) time-stream, then what this object represents to me – even though I don’t know it – is the Eternal. Eternity is being confused with time. Linear time is, we might say, a degenerate analogue of Eternity.



Whichever way we put it, the situation here is that I am unconsciously ascribing a value (or quality) to the defined reality that actually only belongs to the undefined reality, to the unlimited or unbounded reality…



If we get curious here and want to know what exactly this ‘value’ is, what exactly this ‘quality’ is, then what straightaway happens is that we run into an insurmountable problem. The problem we run into is that the way we are expecting the answer to our question to come is in the form of concepts, in the form of words, in the form of language, and concepts, world and language are all part of the defined reality. Because concepts, words and language are defined, they cannot – for reasons that we have just gone into – contain the value that we want to know about! We are therefore simply going around in circles here and not getting anywhere at all – and this sort of movement is when it comes down to it the only sort that is possible within a defined system, within a defined reality.



This is what we started off by saying – that when everything is defined for us then there is no space left. There is no space left for anything to be anything other than what it has already been defined as being! There is no space, and so as a result there is no possibility of ‘getting anywhere different’. This is a very curious situation because it turns out that we are attracted to the defined reality (or to the defined world) because it unconsciously symbolizes for us what it isn’t, because it is stands for something which is actually the complete antithesis of itself. This is a peculiar kind of a thing – how can the defined represent the undefined, the certain represent the uncertain, or the limited represent the unlimited? From the point of view of our normal way of understanding such things, we would have to say that there is a distinct lack of analogy, a distinct lack of ‘sympathy’ here – chalk is being symbolized by cheese, as it were.



We can however understand what is happening here a lot better by looking at the difference between honest representation and what we might call ‘substitution’. No matter how complicated things might seem, it is helpful to understand that there are only ever going to be the two possibilities, open or closed. If a situation is open then there’s clearly nothing more that can be said about it because it hasn’t been finalized or ‘determined’ in any way. And if a situation is closed then no matter what way it is closed, no matter what the style of the thing is, it is closed and that is all we really need to know about. It is also helpful here to look at the relationship between ‘open’ and ‘closed’: if I am looking from an undefined situation into a defined one then this is fine – I can see that the defined reality is a defined reality and there is no problem. This however doesn’t work the other way around – if I am looking at an undefined situation from a defined one then this is very unsettling, more than just ‘unsettling’ it becomes hugely problematic. The reason it becomes hugely problematic is because the undefined reality is reminding me that I am defined and that I don’t have to be defined; it is reminding me – in other words – that there is another, freer state of affairs than the one I know.



Although the undefined world is doing no more than simply ‘reminding’ me of possibilities that are open to me and which I didn’t know of before (which it does by its very existence) this is a actually a very big deal. The whole business of ‘being positively defined’ relies upon the implicit understanding that I have to be defined, that this is the only possibility. If I were to understand that I am following rules but that I don’t have to follow the rules then this would put a different complexion on things entirely. It would put a very different complexion on the whole business of ‘being defined’ – it would turn it from being something that is serious to something that is simply play.



The defined world is a serious world. Things ‘have to be’ whatever it is that they are defined as being – this is very important. It is crucially important, absolutely important. You can’t mess around with this. That things have to be what they are defined as being is the lynch-pin to the whole thing! It is as if you are having a conversation with a Christian Fundamentalist, someone who believes in literal truth of the Bible and you say to this person that the account of the Creation in Genesis is a metaphor or myth which is not meant to be taken literally. The person you are talking to will not be at all happy about this suggestion – they will be at pains to point out that ‘literally’ is exactly how we are to understand the account of the Creation in the Book of Genesis. They will explain – as if to someone who isn’t quite right in the head – that the whole point is that we take the story literally! Not to do so changes the whole character of the thing; what you are really saying to the guy is “All of this is just play, it’s not serious”. Since for the guy there is presumably a huge amount invested in the fact that it actually is serious, what you are trying to explain to him isn’t going to go down at all well…



For the literal believer it is of course vitally important that he doesn’t see himself as playing at being serious! Belief is a quintessentially serious thing – we don’t play at being a believer. Or rather, we do play at believing, but it’s not the done thing to admit to it! Obviously, that would spoil everything…



And in the same way the certainty which is created definitions (or by rules, which come down to the same thing) can’t let on that it isn’t really serious. ‘Certainty’ and ‘playing at certainty’ clearly aren’t the same thing at all! A definition or a rule has a particular ‘no-nonsense character’ – it is like a tough guy, a hard man. If we were to see through the façade and see that the tough guy is a great big softy then that would ruin the game – we wouldn’t be able to take him seriously any more. We might for example simply laugh at him and wink at him when he tries it on with us. Rules embody a particular type of necessity – the firmest and most non-negotiable type imaginable. But what every rule hides from us is the freedom (or ‘space’) that lies behind it, which is the freedom to assert, or not-assert, the rule in the first place. There is in other words no rule saying that there has to be a rule. Once we’ve put the rule in place – elected it, so to speak – then we have at the same time voluntarily obscured from ourselves the capacity to see that the rule isn’t really a necessity. We have at the same time hidden from ourselves the awareness that it isn’t really serious.



James Carse calls this self-veiling – if we want to pretend to ourselves that the game is in fact serious then we have to veil our own involvement in arranging for it to be so. Realizing that we have had a hand in arranging it means realizing that there is no such thing as seriousness. Or with regard to the question of being definite (or being defined) we can say that in order to believe in our own definitions we have to veil from ourselves the freedom that we have in the first place either to make them, or not make them. Realizing that we are veiling our own ‘freedom to define’ from ourselves would mean realizing that there is actually no such thing as a definition, no such thing as a ‘defined reality’ – not in the deadly serious way that we mean it, anyway.



To put this in the simplest possible way: the defined world takes itself seriously, and in order to do this it has to exclude any mention of there being such a thing as an undefined world, an undefined reality. The truth of the matter is that the undefined world, the undefined reality, is the only reality there is. As Meher Baba says,


The Infinite alone exists and is Real, the finite is passing and false.



So what the defined reality is actually doing when excludes the Infinite in the way that it does is ‘putting itself forward for the job’ in a kind of a low-down or devious fashion. It is, by implication, passing itself off as the Genuine Article…



This being so, it is not the case that the defined world is representing the undefined one to us – which would imply some degree of honesty or straightforwardness, at least. This is very far from being the case; in fact it couldn’t be further from being the case. The former gets to stand for the latter because of an act of dishonesty – the defined world is ‘standing for’ its undefined counterpart in a ‘dishonest’ way, i.e. by removing all the opposition. The defined world is therefore a misrepresentation, but an extraordinarily effective one…



As we started off by saying, although the substitution is extraordinarily effective in one sense (in the sense that it takes us in completely) there is a very major snag with it. The ‘snag’ arises out of the fact that the Infinite is actually Real, whereas the finite is not. This means that whilst the defined reality might appear in the first instance to offer some great benefit, it doesn’t! The prize is always snatched away from us just as we think we have it secured – we may think that we have it in the bag, but we never do. The promise is made (it is actually made time and time again), but it is never kept…



One way to think about the ‘false promise’ that is made by the finite or closed system is to say that it is like shouting in a cave – when we let out the shout it feels like we are genuinely releasing it out into the world but this impression is deceptive because the very next moment it comes right back to us in the form of an echo. It rebounds on us because the cave is a closed system. We could also think of Chogyam Trungpa’s explanation of the hell-realm of rage:  in this realm, according to Chogyam Trungpa, the activity that preoccupies us is the activity of striking out violently at some imagined enemy, and whilst doing so anticipating no doubt some form of satisfaction or vindication from having done so. We anticipate some sort of satisfaction because this is what we are habitually accustomed to expect. What actually happens in the hell realm however is that the blow immediately rebounds on us with all the viciousness and violence that we have put in it, causing us excruciating pain, which we then react to by striking out yet again, and continuing the hellish cycle.



In general terms, when we are caught up in the defined world it is as if we are trapped in a Mobius loop of causality, a logical ‘strange loop’ which appears to have two distinct surfaces but which in reality has only the one. In the deceptive world of the strange loop it is possible for us to think things, say things, and do things that are apparently meaningful in the first instance, but which get unfailingly falsified later on in the ‘rebound phase’. If we say that ‘Surface No. 1’ of the strange loop is the domain of ‘apparently positive statements’, then ‘Surface No.2’ is the antithetical domain, ‘the domain of opposites’, the domain within which are to be found all the complementary ‘negative’ statements. Our illusion is to see the two surfaces as distinct or separate, but were we to look hard enough we would see that they are continuous with each other – we would see that Surface No. 1 merges seamlessly with Surface No. 2, the one becoming the other with no actual transition. Every positive statement that we could possibly make is continuous with the corresponding negative statement, which means therefore that they are both the same thing…



All finite worlds are strange loops! All defined realities are “null domains” that are made up of sets of positive and negative statements which have been temporarily separated (or we might say, ‘separated in the realm of the imagination’). There is absolutely no way around this – for things to be otherwise (for there to be such a thing as a defined reality which is not a strange loop – would constitute the most resounding of impossibilities.



We can imagine the creation of a finite world, a defined reality, in terms of a coagulation or condensation of a physical body from a situation where before there was no physical body. The intangible gives rise to the tangible, the immaterial gives birth to the material. Or we could say that the ‘open situation’ is transformed into a situation that is ‘closed’. The body that has been condensed out of the immaterial doesn’t have to be any particular shape, but imagining something that is roughly spherical is probably the easiest because it is – so to speak – made up of circles, or ‘closed loops’. A sphere – like any physical object – embodies an axial system, and each of the axes that make up the system is itself an embodiment of the principle of the ‘separation of the opposites’ within some kind of a ‘virtual arena’. Our imaginary sphere, as can readily be seen, always exists in such a way that half of it can be designated the ‘positive half’ and the other the ‘negative half’. Or to put this in more down-to-earth terms, we could say that every physical object has to have a ‘back’ as well as a ‘front’, a ‘bottom’ as well as a ‘top’, and a ‘left-hand side’ as well as a ‘right-hand side’.
This necessary complementarity can also be expressed by saying simply that every stick has two ends, and that the notion of a stick with only the one end is pretty much a non-starter! The complementarity of left-hand side with right-hand side, back to front, top to bottom just goes to show that all physical objects have to ‘come back’ to themselves in space – so to speak. They have to ‘loop back’ on themselves, to ‘close in’ on themselves, to ‘en-close’ themselves, in order for them to be the defined objects that they are



So all defined bodies are ‘closed’ in this sense – in the sense that they can be entirely accounted for within the remit of a system of axes, where each axis is an embodiment of the principle of the separation of the opposites within some kind of virtual arena, and where – therefore – every ‘positively located’ point that goes to make up the defined object is paired up with a corresponding ‘negatively located’ point.



Everything on a physical body goes around on a circle: no matter which way we travel around the physical body, the defined object, we will always come back to where we started because if we didn’t then what we’re talking about wouldn’t be a physical body, a defined object, in the first place! The hypothetical journey which we are making around the object (either on the inside of it or on the outside) always has a positive component and a negative component, such that the one always negates the other, such that the ‘outward bound’ half of the journey is always reversed later on by the ‘homeward bound’ half of the journey.



And what this shows is simply that in the defined world, in the defined reality, in the defined realm – as we have been saying all along – there is no space.








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.

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