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Private Worlds [1]

The greatest and most insidious danger that we face in life is a danger of our horizons narrowing down and narrowing down without us noticing what is happening, until we end up living a life that is so narrow, so petty, as to be not really worth living. This is – unless we wake up to the process – is the fate of all of us. Life starts with a promise, the promise of wide open horizons – but it almost always ends very often ends with the irreversible ‘closing’ of these horizons. This isn’t some vague metaphysical pronouncement we’re making here but – on the contrary – a very precise and even ‘technical’ matter that can be very precisely set out. We can all see this insidious process happening in our lives, if we were to take the trouble to do so. There’s no great mystery about it – it’s just that we don’t want to know!

What we talking about here is ‘organisational closure’, which is what happens when a system gets cut off from the world outside of it and becomes a ‘sealed-off unit’ or private world. How this happens to us is via the very insidious process of ‘mistaking our thoughts about reality for reality itself’. This isn’t just something that happens the odd time; it’s something that happens all the time! It’s very easy to show that it happens all the time; all we need to do is consider what kind of look, or what kind of aspect the world has for us. If the world appears ‘intelligible’ and ‘matter of fact’ for us and familiar in this kind of conceptual way then we know absolutely for sure that it is our thoughts or ideas about the world that we are encountering and not the word itself. What is ‘intelligible’ and ‘familiar’ to us is our conceptualisation of the world, our model of the world, not the thing itself. The word itself is not intelligible; it is not intelligible because it is not constructed out of thoughts and ideas! If we assume this to be the case then we are sadly mistaken.

Straightaway we can see how easy it is to mistake our conceptualisation of reality for the real thing. It’s so easy that we do it all the time; it’s so easy that we do it as a matter of course. But if we have conceptualised reality then we have also conceptualised ‘who we are’ as well. There’s no way that this can’t be the case – there is no way we can do the one thing without doing the other. If we have mistaken the image for the reality with respect to the world around us then that means that we have done the same thing with respect to ourselves (since we’re also part of that world). Going back to what we have said just a moment ago, making the ‘error’ of mistaking the image for the thing itself means that we have ‘closed down’ to reality. Substituting the map for the territory means that we have become disconnected from reality and this is something that (as we might expect) is going to have the most drastic of consequences. The drastic consequence of bringing this thing called ‘organisational closure’ down upon our heads is neurotic pain, as we started off this discussion by saying. Neurotic pain is how we know we are disconnected.

We don’t really need to spend too much time backing up this assertion with arguments – how can being disconnected from ‘open-ended reality’ (which is to say ‘the Big Picture’) and being confined instead to a logically consistent (i.e. closed) analogue of that open reality not result in suffering? How could this situation ever work out well for us; how plausible is it that we could deprive ourselves of reality itself and yet still thrive? The first thing we ought to note here is that the malaise (or rather the visible manifestation of the invisible malaise) does not set in immediately. On the contrary, the immediate feeling we get is one of what we might describe as a feeling of intense well-being (although this well-being isn’t in the least bit genuine). What we’ve actually done when we replace reality with our conceptual picture of it is to tremendously oversimplify things – we have essentially subsumed everything within a crude theory and we all know how good that can feel! Everything has been explained; everything has been ‘explained away’, in fact. The same euphoric reward is obtained when we convert to a fundamentalist religion, or when we to subscribe to some crass far right or far left political ideology (or actually any ideology) – the ‘reward’ comes about because we have avoided the essential challenge of life by converting life into some crude formula that needs to be followed. We have converted life into ‘a rule that needs to be obeyed’ and this avoidance makes us feel good, as avoidance (when successful) always does. We’ve dumbed ourselves down and that feels great. Everyone knows this – why else do we enjoy getting drunk, after all? The euphoria of alcohol intoxication comes from oversimplifying our understanding of the world, which is to say, ‘the loss of all subtlety’ in our picture of things. That’s why we like to subscribe to fundamentalist religions and crass ideologies, too.

So Phase-1 of organisational closure is therefore – we might say – all very rosy. It feels good in the same way that it does when we are putting a plan into action and everything is working smoothly. We are experiencing the euphoria that comes with successful control. The trouble comes later – the trouble comes when things stop going to plan, or when we start losing control. If it is the case that our plans go a little bit off the rails from time to time and we are able to get things back on track again, patch things up and sort out all the problems that need sorting out then that’s not so bad. That’s actually quite enjoyable. We know things can go wrong but we also have the confidence to know that they can be put right again to. When we fix the problems we feel good, in other words. This isn’t as obvious a statement at it might at first seem however because there are two distinct components here – one that is legitimate and one that isn’t. It feels good to solve a problem for straightforward practical reasons but it can also (and very often does) feel good because we are using the ‘external fixing’ as a surrogate for some ‘problem on the inside’ that we don’t want to acknowledge. This ‘displacement mechanism’ is allowing us to believe that ‘all the problems are on the outside and that they can therefore be fixed’. Just as long as we have this extrinsic form of confidence we will feel OK about ourselves in a naïve sort of a way and so we won’t ever have to start becoming actually aware of ourselves. This is when the integrity of the game that we are playing has yet to be compromised and so we can go on playing it indefinitely; this then corresponds to ‘Phase-1 of the Organisationally Closed Self-System’ – the ‘All is Rosy’ phase.

Phase-2 – then – is when the integrity of the game we are playing does start to become compromised, and we no longer able to believe that ‘all the problems are on the outside and that they can be fixed’. This comfortable ‘unconscious or unexamined belief’ no longer holds water and so – in effect – our whole world starts to fall to pieces. We might keep on coming across a problem that can’t be fixed, a difficult situation that we are no longer able to stay ‘positive’ about, and this eventuality – if it keeps on happening – eventually jinxes the game that we are playing. We will start to get the dark suspicion that our problem isn’t ‘on the outside and that it can’t be fixed’, which as we have said is the displacement game that we have been playing successfully up to this point.

This partially-repressed perception represents a breach of the integrity of the system of unconsciousness. There is a dangerous crack opening in the bulwark – there is evidence that we can no longer dismiss or ignore, evidence that says ‘things are not as we have always assumed to be’. Being convinced that what we have always assumed to be is so (so convinced that we never actually bother notice that we are convinced) is what the state of unconsciousness is all about. Being convinced that ‘the world is what we think it is’ is what psychological unconsciousness is all about. Not to put too fine a point on it, the integrity of the system of unconsciousness is the integrity of the lie, and it is this lie that we are relying on to get our sense of security from. When the lie starts to fail in any way therefore this is the beginning of the end – any crack at all in the lie draws our attention to the fact that the lie is a lie and we cannot recover from this! This is an awareness that we just can’t get rid of, no matter how much we’d like to…

The lie in question – we might say – is that we have a separate (closed) existence of our own.  Believing in this lie gives rise to a very odd sort of situation; it gives rise to a very odd situation because it always brings satisfaction and despair both at the same time! What we’re talking about here is a kind of ‘own goal’ therefore – there is the tremendously gratifying feeling of satisfaction (or sense of achievement) that comes from is the scoring of the goal, followed by the growing despair and regret that comes when we realise that the goal we have just scored so successfully counts against us (as we will only very gradually and indirectly). There is a movement from euphoria to discomfort and despair, doing and both the euphoria/comfort and the dysphoria/despair come from the very same source – the shutting off of ourselves from reality! It’s the same thing seen two different ways. Closing down reality feels good because we have gotten rid of the challenge of openness (the challenge that we want so much to flee from); when this challenge is removed we are immediately gratified; we obtain a ‘sense of security’ in place of the openness that we fear. The good feeling is short-lived however because we have cut off our nose to spite our face – shutting down reality is a perverse act (it is the ultimate perverse act) since open-ended reality is the only place any sort of genuine good feeling can come from. The euphoria we obtain from shutting down reality is fool’s gold therefore – it is fool’s gold because as soon as we get time to take a good look at it we realize (to our utter dismay) that it is completely worthless…

Phase 2 of organisational closure is as we have said when the integrity of the game starts to give way. This isn’t a straightforward process to observe however because the game has a tremendous ability to keep on papering over its own cracks. Just as the game (or the lie) is a tremendous capacity to effectively cover up the truth of what’s going on in the world, so too does it have a prodigious capacity to cover up the truth of what’s going on with it as well. Even up to its final collapse the system is able to re-present what is in deceptive terms, by displacing the pain elsewhere. We could think of any corrupt and failing dictatorship in this connection, where the tactic of choice is always to draw attention away from itself (and its corruption) by always blaming imaginary enemies (or by scapegoating a certain minority group within its own population). We never see what the real cause of the malaise is because we are too busy chasing after red herrings, therefore. We have been all too easily and all too effectively sidetracked.

Thought is very strong in this respect, and we are very weak. Historically, thought has been our master for a long, long time and we have been we have pretty much forgotten that things could be any other way. We have lost the ability to question ‘the hierarchy of power’; we have lost the ability to critically examine the official or orthodox order of things. The consequence of this is that we can and will get bamboozled very easily – we are practically begging to be bamboozled! No matter what the system of thought tells us we going to believe it, even though it may be telling us stuff that is `bat-shit crazy’. The thinking mind can just about tell us anything and we will believe it; we might naively ask what the point of the thinking mind telling us all sorts of crazy stuff  is and the answer is simply that it is to throw us off the scent, as we have already said. The game is protecting its own integrity, which is always its ‘Prime Directive’, so to speak.

The way the system throws us off the scent is in essence by continually telling us to look at ‘points of interest’ in the ongoing narrative that it keeps on drawing our attention to. It’s easy for the thinking mind to do this because we are always looking ‘on the outside’ anyway and so our attention is just waiting to be caught in some hook or other. It needs to be attached to some issue or other and this is what the mechanism of pain displacement is all about. Because space has been restricted ‘on the inside’ (which is how the thinking mind functions) our attention has to go looking for hooks on the outside. It has to go somewhere, after all. This is what Scott Peck means when he says that if we don’t freely attend to the pain where it belongs, where it actually is, (i.e. on the inside) then we will be compelled to encounter it where it isn’t – out there somewhere in the form of a projection, in the form of a displacement. In the absence of ‘freedom on the inside’ there must be slavery on the outside, but the thing about this is that because is that there can never be ‘freedom on the inside’ just as long we are operating on the basis of the rational mind because the rational mind is a template, and templates are always deterministic in nature. A template as a mould, and as such it moulds what we can perceive, it moulds what we can believe. This means taking our freedom away.

We can think of a light source that has to pass through a very narrow slit (as in the classic physics experiment) – the light-source is consciousness and the narrow slit is the template of the thinking mind. The more our consciousness is restricted the more defined and more predictable will be the objects of our attention; we will in effect only be able to understand the world in the way that we have been conditioned to understand it, in terms of ‘generic things’, so to speak, whereas if we had a broader beam of consciousness we would be able to see the world in a more multifaceted way and as a result there would be no more ‘generic things’ (or ‘stereotyped objects’). The more ways we have of ‘seeing a thing’ the less of a ‘thing’ it is, in other words. Unrestricted consciousness can see the world ‘from all possible angles’ and so there is no regulated way of apprehending it (i.e. there is no stereotyping); furthermore, we can say that the more ‘narrow the slit’ the more inherently self-contradictory our understanding is going to be since – as Alan Watts says – a boundary is made up of PLUS just as much as it is made up of MINUS. Our vision of the world is going to be both tediously literal, and invisibly self-contradictory, which is the price we pay for living in concrete reality.  The less freedom there is within us the more ‘inner pain’ this is going to produce, and the more pain we’re in the more drastic the pain-displacement is going to have to be, which is another way of saying that the dramas are going to become more ‘dramatic’ in order to distract us from seeing the true cause of our distress. This is ‘the unconscious life’, where we are always looking in the wrong direction, where we are never seeing what is really going on. The ‘distractions’ that the system of thought throws up are probably not going to make any sense to an outside observer, but they will be perfectly convincing the individual concerned, as we all know. We all get swallowed up in our own neurosis, even if we don’t find other people’s neurotic preoccupations as being particularly convincing (although there are exceptions to this).

Given the fact that we are so very much in thrall to the thinking mind, as we have said, then there is no limit to what we will take from it – our thoughts will – in effect – ‘bully us to the ends of the earth’, and all for the sake of preserving the integrity of the game that is being played without us knowing that we are playing it. The game – as we have said – is that we have a separate (closed) existence of our own. The more painful our experience becomes the more of a drama it becomes and the whole point of a drama is that we take it very, very seriously. We don’t have any sense of humour about it, in other words, and what we are ‘not having a sense of humour about’ is this idea that we have a separate existence all of our own. The idea of being a separate or concrete self is inherently humourless anyway; this is by its very nature a profoundly humourless place to be in since it is based on taking a very narrow view of things, and ‘humour’ is all about having unexpected new ways of looking at an old situation. ‘Seeing the joke’ means seeing things in a way that we aren’t supposed to see them.

What we are saying about neurotic dramas having the function of ‘distracting ourselves from seeing through the game that we are playing’ corresponds to what Greg Tucker says about neurotic pain being our last-ditch attempt to prove to ourselves that there is something else apart from the Mind-Created Dream, i.e. that we have some kind of actual bone fide existence outside of it. If I am suffering then I must be real. The other side of this argument is that I only believe that I am real because I am falling for the Mind-Created Drama that posits me as the ‘actor’; the whole point of a drama is that there is someone there who the drama is happening to, after all. Naturally dramas are about ‘creating a fixed sense-of-self’ – what else would they be about, anyway? They’re just too plain ‘dumb’ to be about anything else. Dramas aren’t there to tell us profound truths about the world after all – they’re there to reaffirm (for the ten billionth time) our dull and tedious existence as the concrete or separate self.


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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