What we very rarely realize is that there are two worlds, not just the one, and that these two worlds are mutually exclusive. We could talk about this in terms of the integesic versus the exegesic universe. The exegesic universe is the easiest to start with – it is the world we relate to as a result of our viewpoints, as a result of our ‘models’. We could also say that the exegesic universe is the universe that exists in relation to that arbitrary construct which we call ‘the self’.
The construct that we call the self cannot perceive or in any way relate to anything that is not a reflection of its own unconscious assumptions. Or to put this even more bluntly – the self cannot relate to anything that is not itself! The exegesic universe is never any more than a faithful reflection of our own limiting assumptions – it is made up of these limiting assumptions, in other words. ‘Limiting assumptions’ are the bricks and mortar, the warp and woof of the exegesic universe.
Instead of talking about limiting assumptions, we could simply say that certainty (in whatever form it comes) is ‘the bricks and mortar, the warp and woof’ of the exegesic universe. These are two ways of saying the same thing – limiting assumptions are what create certainty, of whatever type. No limiting assumptions means no certainty – i.e. if we don’t limit reality then we can’t get to be certain about it!
From our normal point of view this is a very challenging statement. It’s actually the ultimately challenging statement – it challenges everything we believe in, all in one go, and that has got to be a pretty big deal. We can hardly take this within our stride with equanimity! We depend on this certainty, we cling to this certainty, we base our lives on it – take it away and what do we have left? As far as we are concerned, you might as well take everything away since we don’t recognize anything that isn’t certain, anything that isn’t ‘logically defined’. Certainty isn’t really everything though. Actually certainty isn’t anything – it’s an arbitrary construct, it never existed in the first place, so of course it isn’t everything!
If we lose all the certainty in our lives we haven’t really lost a whole lot because that certainty was never really there in the first place –we created it for ourselves via this business of ‘assuming’. We manufacture this certainty of ours by saying that such-and-such is a limit and then never looking beyond what we have just said to be a limit. Another way of putting this is to say that we manufacture certainty by never looking beneath surface-level appearances. If we look beneath the surface level then we discover other stuff, and so what we thought we knew changes irrevocably, and this process – the process by which our so-called knowledge is relativized by looking into it – never comes to an end. It can’t come to an end because there are no limits in nature – limits are our invention, not nature’s.
It is uncertainty that is interesting, not certainty. In his Guide to the Perplexed, E.F. Schumacher makes this point in relation to maps –
The maps of real knowledge, designed for real life — then — showed nothing except things which allegedly could be proved to exist. The first principle of the philosophical map-makers seemed to be “if in doubt, leave it out,” or put it into a museum. It occurred to me, however, that the question of what constitutes proof was a very subtle and difficult one. Would it not be wiser to turn the principle into its opposite and say: “if in doubt, show it prominently?” After all, matters that are beyond doubt are, in a sense, dead, they constitute no challenge to the living.
To accept anything as true means to incur the risk of error. If I limit myself to knowledge that I consider true beyond doubt, I minimize the risk of error, but at the same time, I maximize the risk of missing out on what may be the subtlest, most important, and most rewarding things in life.
Maps are full of stuff that we already know, but what’s really interesting is the stuff we don’t know. What we don’t know is what makes life worth living, what we don’t know is what stops life turning into a mere routine, a mere mechanical repetition. Uncertainty is thus what raises the dry literal statements of the mechanical mind to the level of poetry, to the level of inspired metaphor. Uncertainty is creative – it is what brings the breath of life to the word and transforms it from being a mere simulation of reality to the real thing.
This is a curious turnaround from our usual way of thinking in which we see the certain as being real and the uncertain being nothing more than conjecture, nothing more than empty fancy. Earlier on we said something to the effect that the construct we know as the self is fundamentally incapable of perceiving anything that is not in agreement with its assumptions – the assumptions that make it what it is. It can’t perceive anything that is not itself, in other words. The only thing that the self can ever encounter is the world that is made up of its own unconscious projections (projections that it does not know to be projections). These projections are the ‘certainty’ that we take as being the only verified and therefore legitimate reality. These projections are the only thing we take seriously, the only thing we see.
This is of course getting everything totally backwards! We’ve got it all the wrong way around. When we look out at the world and we see poetry in it, when we see beauty and mystery in it, when we see the shoreless ocean of radical uncertainty that everything swims in, then we are seeing something that is NOT us. Then we are seeing something that is NOT our own unrecognized projection. We’re seeing something real – it’s real because it’s not merely a reflection of our own unexamined assumptions about the world. This rarely-glimpsed world of mystery and poetry (which is a world that can never be ‘proved’!) is real because it is not a reflection of our own faces staring back at us, deep in some narcissistic /solipsistic trance!
The ‘world that can’t ever be proven’ is the integesic universe. The integesic universe is the universe that isn’t made up of our own limiting assumptions, but of what lies beyond these crass and unfounded assumptions. The key point that we could make about the integesic universe is that we cannot come across it, see it, or in any way relate to it, just as long as we are identified with the construct that we call the self. The degree to which we do not understand ourselves to be ‘this self’ (this ‘me’) is thus the degree to which we are able to perceive the reality of the integesic universe.
The everyday self doesn’t get to know about the integesic universe, therefore. It doesn’t even get to have a sniff of it. It could live an entire lifetime and never even see the slightest sign of it. The integesic universe is there all the time, the balm to all our ills, the poetry and magic we are missing in our lives, but we never see any sign of it. We are rendered incapable of seeing it because of the way we insist on looking at the world only from the narrow disconnected viewpoint of the abstract self-construct. What we are calling the integesic universe doesn’t exist just so long as we are playing that game of being this ‘self’ and we are inclined to get quite vehement on the point! Our beliefs will always deny that there is anything outside of them; our thoughts will always deny that there is a world which they cannot reach. That the everyday self doesn’t ever get to know about the integesic universe – with all its wonders – might seem very unfair, cruel even, but if we thought this then we would be missing the point. The point is that if the everyday self did get to know about the integesic universe then it would no longer exist. It only gets to be there (and do the type of stuff that it does do) when it doesn’t know anything about the integesic universe…
We could of course equally well say that the everyday self only gets to be the everyday self (that the self-construct only gets to be the self-construct) when it lives exclusively in the exegesic universe. So we can’t really say that it is ‘unfair’ that the self-construct is so isolated from reality, so disconnected from reality, so alienated from reality because that’s the only way it can get to be there in the first place – by being isolated, disconnected, alienated. The isolated / disconnected self’s over-riding need is not to know about (not to ever come across) the integesic universe, since ‘knowing about the integesic universe’ is the same thing as its dissolution. ‘Knowing about the reality of the integesic universe’ and ‘continuing to exist as the self we understand ourselves to be’ are two mutually incompatible things! The struggle of the everyday self to carry on existing is thus the same thing as its struggle not to admit the existence of any other reality than that of the exegesic universe.
What we actually talking about here is fear, therefore. We all think we know what fear is – but we don’t really. We can’t allow ourselves to know what fear is really about. We all know what it feels like to be afraid it is true but whilst we are actually feeling fear we don’t go into the experience too much. This isn’t how fear works – the whole impetus of fear is to run away from the experience, not delve into it! We involuntarily find ourselves heading in the opposite direction to fear; it is as if we are possessed by the fear, it takes control of us like nothing else could and we’re generally far too busy running, too busy fleeing or hiding, to take much (if any) interest in its strangely involuntary or compulsive nature. Afterwards, we are happy to ascribe the experience to some tangible reason or other. We see fear as being an entirely biological motivation, which means that it is no more than the conditioning evolution has bestowed upon us in order that we might be better ‘survival machines’.
Fear is more than this however. That’s not the deepest aspect of fear. We might be afraid of this or afraid of that but all these ‘little fears’ are echoes of the archetypal fear, which is the terror of having what we are holding onto taken away from us. It doesn’t matter what we’re hanging onto, the important thing is that we have something there (something which we can be 100% sure of) to hold onto. So this comes back to certainty – certainty is what we hold onto in order to obtain security, and so learning that the certainty in our lives is only there because it has been manufactured by ourselves (which means that it doesn’t exist at all otherwise) is the true root of fear. Fear is the relationship, as J.G. Bennett states in The Dramatic Universe, between the unreal and the real when the unreal doesn’t want to know that it’s unreal! Fear is therefore the motivation that lies behind everything in the exegesic universe. Or, as we could also say, the exegesic universe is our defence against fear, whilst at the same time being the cause of this fear!
Instead of saying that the everyday (or exegesic) self is driven in everything it does (and everything it thinks) by its absolute need not to know about the integesic universe we could equivalently say that it is driven by its greed, which is the ‘flip-side’ of fear. We could say that it is driven by its desire for what it does not have, namely reality. This is the same thing, only seen the other way around. The motivation of fear/greed (otherwise known as attachment) is not a straightforward one because we neither know what it is that we are fleeing from (i.e. the awareness of our own non-existence), nor do we really understand what it is that we are searching for so fervently with all of our goal-orientated activity, with all of our purposeful striving (i.e. reality, or ‘the state of being real’). The entire basis of our motivational system is opaque to us, occluded from us, with the result that we have to make do with proxy fears and proxy desires. If we didn’t use proxies then the true nature of what motivates us would no longer be opaque or occluded and so the whole system would immediately fall to pieces. The system of denial cannot work when we know what we are denying!
The everyday self neither knows what it is doing, nor why! And not only does it not know the what or the why, it doesn’t want to know. It’s actually dead set against knowing – nothing could be further from the everyday self’s agenda than knowing what its true motivation is! Naturally enough it denies this – claiming to be interested in what it is doing and why it is doing it is the mechanism by which it denies its own deep-down lack of interest. This pretence at being engaged, this play at being interested, is the smokescreen, the red-herring! The truth of the matter is that the exegesic self (the self who we aren’t) isn’t interested in reality at all – it’s only interested in knowing how to avoid reality! This is the fundamental nature of the exegesic self – this unexamined and skilfully disguised urge to avoid reality is ‘what makes it tick’.
Such then is the life of the exegesic self – it is the life of ‘us being who we’re not’ in a world that isn’t real! This is what the exegesic universe is all about – it’s all about us arbitrarily taking up some kind of a position and then implicitly claiming that it is ‘the only true position’ when the truth is not just that it isn’t the true position at all, but actually that there is no such thing as ‘a true position’ in the first place. No position is the true position! A ‘position’ is the same thing as ‘an assumption’ – it is ‘a freely chosen limitation’. When we carry out this manoeuvre then what happens as a result is that we perceive this assumed position (this ‘false basis’) that we are looking out from reflected right back at us, but in a way that we do not recognize.
This then is the exegesic universe in a nutshell – our assumptions are immediately reflected back at us, reflected so perfectly that there’s no gap, no discontinuity, nothing that wasn’t there in the assumptions to start off with. And yet somehow we manage to believe that there is a gap, that there is a discontinuity, that there is a space in which something new can happen; this is the whole thing about the exegesic universe – we think that something can happen in it, and yet nothing can. This is a tremendous thing to understand – nothing can ever happen in the exegesic universe.
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.