There are many different ways in which to approach the whole idea of ‘self-deception’. One rather sophisticated way involves what psychotherapists call pseudo-solution. This neat-sounding term refers to the psychological dodge of solving or attempting to solve problems that are subjectively analogous to some problem (or to something which we mistakenly see as a problem) that we are afraid to look at directly, for whatever reasons. It is important to note that the relationship between the scary original ‘problem’ and the tame analogy which we are so much more comfortable in dealing with is not what we could call a ‘true’ relationship – if there was some genuine correspondence, some essential similarity in nature, then when we solved the surrogate then we would have, in some degree, also solved the original and so our efforts would not have been totally wasted. Sometimes people defend playing computer or console games on this basis, saying that skills are picked up through the many hours of intense and unremitting dedication to the game that can be usefully transferred to the infinitely broader arena of everyday life. If this were true then the pastime would be redeemed from being pure, useless distraction to something rather more worthy, but on the other hand if it were not to be the case then we would have to own up to the fact that all that time spent in virtual-reality game realms has nothing to do with life at all, but that it only has to do with itself, which would mean that the time spent playing the game is usefully spent only in regard to the terms of the game itself. In other words, the goal of ‘winning’ and the all-consuming activity of ‘striving to win’ are meaningful only within the context of the game – outside of that context they mean nothing at all.
FALSELY ANALOGOUS RELATIONSHIPS
Whatever the situation is with console games, with regard to psychological pseudosolution it is by definition the case that the goals and activities with which we preoccupy ourselves have no real relation with whatever it is we are trying to avoid – if they did have some genuine relationship then our avoidant behaviour would actually not be avoidant at all, but rather it would be the opposite, which is to say, our love of ‘comfort zones’ and our addiction to ‘safety-behaviour’ would actually be a love of being challenged and an appetite for psychological risk-taking. None of us are going to experience any great difficulty involved in recognizing this to be utter nonsense – I might as well say that my behaviour in running away from a dangerous situation and allowing other people to face that danger instead of me is a form of heroism, and that I ought to receive some sort of public commendation for my bravery in fleeing the scene so quickly. The fact that the analogue problem in pseudosolution has no real relationship to the ‘original so-called problem’ can be used to define the nature of pseudosolution, i.e. –
ln abd consitute e that there is something’ that importance, rather than secondary importance. with our neat and orderly rationa
2.1 MENTAL ENTROPY
Another approach to this business of self-deception is to say that it has to do with the way in which we can choose to focus on one aspect of a complex whole to the exclusion of all other aspects, without acknowledging to ourselves that this is what we have done. which is to say it looks the way it is because that’s the way we want it to look. In his book Mysteries Colin Wilson gives the example of those visual puzzles which can appear to show different things according to certain key assumptions that we (unconsciously) make in the first place about how to look at it. The visual puzzle he refers to is a geometrical figure which looks as if it is standing out of the page in a convex fashion if you look at it one way, and as if is set back out of the page in a concave fashion if we look at it the other way. This figure might be said to have a sort of perceptual bi-stability – it can look convex or concave with equal facility. The point is of course that the figure itself isn’t doing anything to change, but rather that we ourselves are shifting our viewpoint, which brings the bi-stability down to an act of choice on our part. It may not seem like a choice because it has become so very quick and so very habitual and so very entrenched, but a choice it is all the same.
Visual puzzles like this actually rely on ‘self-deception’ in order to work since we have to – in a manner of speaking – withhold from ourselves one way of looking at the figure in order to see the other way. Once we have done this we get stuck in the way that we have chosen and it is as if we have lost the freedom we originally had to choose. This can be explained in terms of information dumping by saying that once we bring one aspect of the figure into focus we have lost the means of retracing our steps and de-focusing it again, which means that we become saddled with the particular aspect that we chose. This use of the word ‘choice’ is rather peculiar therefore since the instant we make it we lose the freedom to know that there was a choice there in the first place. On the one side of the doorway (the free side) it is a choice but the instant I pass through it (into the ‘unfree’ side) then the very notion of ‘choice’ is utterly expunged from my awareness – from this moment on I see the world solely on the basis of the truncated understanding which I have now obtained as a result of the choice I have made. After the event I still feel as if I am able to make choices but because any willed action that I might make is carried out on the basis of a severely limited viewpoint that has no inkling of its own limitation then the word ‘choice’ cannot be used. Everything I do from this point onwards is merely the unconscious reiteration of a particular logical standpoint that I cannot see, and so whilst I might feel that I am exercising genuine choice all that I am really doing is deterministically acting out a set of unconsciously made assumptions, and this is clearly not the same thing as free will at all!
The inevitable irreversibility associated with this sort of ‘information dumping’ is of course characteristic of all processes which proceed in the direction of increasing entropy. Entropy is quintessentially about the ‘one-way street effect’ whereby we exercise our freedom to choose only to become so trapped in the choice that we have made that we can no longer even know it to be a choice is what entropy is all about. The fact that we can flip back and forth from convex to concave with reasonable ease in Colin Wilson’s diagram does not mean that there is no irreversibility involved, simply that there is a part of our perceptual system which still remains ‘outside the trap’, as it were. For proof of a particular narrow but logically-consistent viewpoint which it is laughably easy to enter but utterly impossible to just walk out of we can give the example of paranoia – if I click into a full-blown paranoid way of seeing the world I simply cannot exit that horrifying picture by trying to think about my situation in a different way, no matter how much I want to do so. This is the fish-trap of the rational mind at its most vicious – visual puzzles may be fun, but it would be pushing things a bit far to say the same of paranoia.
To accuse someone suffering from intense paranoia of deceiving themselves seems rather unfair and unsympathetic, even though technically correct in the sense of the term that we have outlined above. A better way of putting it might be to say that when I am suffering from paranoia I am being deceived by the thinking, conceptualizing mind that I have set up above myself via a process of unreflective identification, a process whereby I hastily accept assumptions and as a result render them invisible and inaccessible to me. In the case of the sort of visual puzzle we have been talking about, the self-deception (if we may continue to call it that) involves choosing to see it one way and thereby creating for ourselves the ‘reality’ that we wish to see. Because no specific picture exists prior to my taking one or the other of the possible perceptual positions or viewpoints it has to be the case that at this moment of non-commitment I am not coerced into one view more than the other, and it is for this reason that we can use the word ‘choice’. After the event however I am not relating to the picture that I now see before me as a choice, which is to say as something which I have freedom over, but rather I am relating to it as a final, all-determining reality which I am subject to, in a fundamentally unfree way. At this point in our discussion it can plainly be seen that what we are talking about is the exact same thing as ‘the selection of the rule’ that we talked about in Chapter 1, i.e. the process whereby we select a bounded set out of the unbounded Universal Set by being one-sided without acknowledging that we are being one-sided. The ‘rule’, as we said, has the absolute authority that it does have precisely because its one-sided nature necessarily excludes any consideration of its own one-sidedness, and this constitutes what we referred to as ‘the principle of deception’ inherent in all rules (or in all definite statements). This principle can be very simply expressed as follows –
2.2 ENTROPY AND THE PHYSICAL UNIVERSE
Whereas the visual puzzle we talked about comes ready-made with two possible ways of visually orientating ourselves to it, when we are talking about the Universal Set it can hardly be the case that it comes equipped with only a paltry few perspectives – in fact because it is by its very nature unbounded we cannot put a limit to the number of specific levels of description that exist, in potentia, within it. Because the Universal Set excludes nothing it contains everything, and who (apart from the most inveterate dogmatist) could be so rash as to put a limit on what that ‘everything’ might turn out to be, or how far it might extend? As Kurt Gödel demonstrated in his Incompleteness Theorem, it is impossible to survey the whole mathematical territory in any one ‘take’, as it were, and so it must therefore be equally impossible to put limits on that territory, with regards for example to how big it might be and what sort of things it might have within it. If we jump from the Universal Set, which is generally seen as being merely a mathematical entity, to the physical universe then we can see straight away that the universe (which is to say, the whole of everything that can be discerned by our senses or by our measuring instruments as having existence) does exclude certain possibilities. This is in fact not putting the matter strongly enough since all the physical laws that we read about in a physics text book are statements of specific disymmetries – without these fundamental disymmetries the physical universe would not exist. The property of physicality may be said to be a direct result of these laws, which basically say what is not possible.
This is just another way of saying that what we call ‘the universe’ (i.e. the ‘tangible all’) is the result of symmetry-breaking on a grand scale, and this in turn is a way of saying that the information content of the Universal Set, which contains no disymmetries, has been stepped down or reduced by an unfathomably massive extent to produce the tangible universe. Thus, the material world in which we live may be said – quite straightforwardly – to be the result of choices that have been made and then forgotten about. Just as Berger and Luckman say that the social world we live in becomes ‘reified’ as a result of arbitrarily made-up rules which we make and then forget that we made, so too is the reification inherent in physicality the result of ‘ignored arbitrariness’, i.e. it is the result of the increase in entropy. This is of course a hell of a lot harder to understand than Berger and Luckman’s social reification process because we end up wondering who made the choices. Or, if our thinking is a bit subtler, we might wonder how it was possible for there to be a ‘chooser’ there to make a choice in the first place when the chooser is as much a product of the original Cosmic Symmetry Break as everything else. Furthermore, we can choose to break society’s conventions, or at least learn to see through them, but who can play fast and loose with the laws of nature?
This is a question of intentionality. Society is self-evidently the result of intentionality – we choose to have the rules we do have and then we get just as trapped in them as if we didn’t make them. But how could it possibly be the case that we deliberately elected to live within the remit of the physical laws of which the material universe is the legitimate expressions? This question can never be answered since it contains within it a basic paradox, as we have suggested in the previous paragraph. Since we are creatures of the physical universe, existing within the framework of time and space, we are already the outcome of that decision or symmetry-break. Since we are the outcome of that choice there is obviously no way in which we can be said to be responsible for it, unlike the situation with the social framework which we certainly did pre-date. This might seem like an effective end to any argument to any suggestion that the physical universe is the result of an act of intentionality on our part but it isn’t, as any quantum physicist will be happy to point out. We are still left with a whole bunch of imponderable questions such as “Why did the Original Symmetry Break happen in the first place?” and “Was there was a causal agent involved in this unthinkably momentous event (as it appears to be at least from within its own necessarily biased perspective)?” and “If there was a causal agent how could that ‘causal agent’ have preceded the laws of causality when those laws of causality unfolded only as a result of that symmetry break?” but we don’t have to get hung up on them. The point is that we construct or deconstruct the physical universe every time we make a decision about how we are going to look at that universe. Every time we choose which framework to view the world from we instigate our own personalized echo of that the original Symmetry Break. Just as we make up the set of rules (or precedents) which constitute society and then forget that we were actually responsible for making them up, so too do we make the rules for how to see the physical universe, and then forget that we responsible for selecting what becomes The Way to look at things out of many possible ways. Furthermore, there is clearly a connection between the socially conditioned mind and the way in which that conditioned mind interprets, and relates to, the world at large. As David Bohm has said, the social system, the mind which is adapted to functioning in that system, and the world which that mind deliberately produces for itself are all apparently different aspects of the very same logical continuum.
This argument tends to fall on stony ground. It is generally accepted that quantum events are participatory in nature (which is to say, we choose how they are going to be by the way in which we chose to look at them, or interact with them). It is also no big deal to suggest that the modern man-made world which we inhabit is a reflection or projection of the ideas and assumptions in our own heads. This is obvious. But even though we do, for all practical purposes, live within a world which we ourselves have designed, it is still the case that the immutable physical laws which give rise to the underlying state of materiality are not of our making. Surely, we say, we are the outcome of these laws, not the creators of them. The whole point about the physical laws (and the constants which they represent) is that they are independent of whatever viewpoint we may choose to take on them – the whole point is that they exist prior to our mental activity rather than being a function of them.
This is where we need to consider a hitherto unmentioned phenomenon, a ‘phenomenon’ (not the most appropriate term to use since consciousness is actually a context rather than an object or ‘thing’ within a context) generally known as consciousness. The current view on consciousness is that it is a function of the laws of causality just as everything else is. All physical / energetic processes and phenomena in the universe are predicated up the physical laws and so it seems clear that the phenomenon of consciousness must also be ‘on this side’ of the original information collapse, rather than belonging on the ‘far side’ of that cosmically self-referential event. We are thus attempting to see awareness (the very awareness that attempts to do the seeing) as being an object rather than the subject. This assumes a world in which there are only ‘objects’, a world in which the status of ‘subject’ is entirely subjective, as it were. The independently existent world of ‘object-hood’ outranks all else in this scheme of things – it is lord and master of all whilst that curious thing we call awareness is nothing at all, a mere by-product or epiphenomenon. This is the viewpoint which we are culturally conditioned to have and it is therefore well-nigh unquestionable in the general run of things. And yet there is no reason at all why we should have come down so heavily on this way of looking at things, which is after all a way that relegates the more central (or most intimate) feature of our experience to the inconsequential status of some obscure conditioned phenomenon – an occurrence that far from having a primary place in the grand scheme of things, occupies something like fifth or six or even five hundred and fifty-sixth place in the great causal chain. We investigate gravity and the other forces, electromagnetic radiation, and the atomic/subatomic particles as being of prime significance, whereas consciousness is barely thought mentioning anywhere. We are interested in our projections, but this very serious interest in positively defined images or forms necessarily involves a profound lack of interest in the process of ‘projecting’ wherein they find their origin.
If we were not so heavily conditioned by the prevailing rationalist-materialist paradigm we might start to see that this is very much akin to putting the cart before the horse. Just as an unreflective (or ‘unconscious’) individual spends all their time chasing and getting excited by his or her external projections, without stopping even for a second to consider themselves, and the unquestioned beliefs that give rise to the alluring or terrifying projections, so to do we allow ourselves to focus exclusively on the external world, with zero regard for the inner. And even when we do – supposedly – study the inner world all we are really doing is treating it as if it is an object which can be rationally investigated, the same as all the external objects which we are so interested in can be investigated. Our so-called science of ‘psychology’ turns the inner world into the same banal old outer world, a removed or abstract world of rationally-derived objects just like everything else we think about, and thus it perfectly frustrates its avowed (if not very sincere) intention of actually learning something about the one who is doing the investigating. The prevailing paradigm, the culturally conditioned viewpoint which we are all so reluctant to question, is therefore a paradigm of unconsciousness – it is a collective validation of the pernicious habit of thoroughly preoccupying ourselves with the tediously inconsequential at the expense of what really is worthy of our attention. In effect, we ignore the true beauty and mystery of the world because we are much too fascinated with (or enslaved by) the painstaking elucidation of our own sterile and worthless preconceptions. This way, we put ourselves (which is to say, our own silly and basically conceited deliberations) ‘first’, even though by so doing we remove ourselves from the only thing that could ever make life genuine meaningful to us.
Unconsciousness can be succinctly defined by saying that is the process whereby we ignore what is going on inside by focussing exclusively on what is going on outside. It could also be said that unconsciousness is the way we have of elevating our own arbitrarily selected notions to the level of absolute truths – the actual mechanism of which is projection. Projection in the sense that we are using the term means that we adopt a particular ‘kink’ in the way we process information and then focus our attention on the way this kink makes the world look. This is pretty much the same idea as Plato’s ‘cave’ metaphor. Projection due to assuming certain mental postures without acknowledging the freedom that one has to do so is like making shadow-shapes on a wall by manipulating one’s hands in front of a strong beam of light – ‘unconsciousness’ in this simile is when we simplemindedly ignore our own participation in producing the shadow-shapes and relate to them as a result as if they had an independent life of their own, and ‘consciousness’ would be where we realize that we are only relating to what we ourselves have produced. Consciousness therefore does away with the perception of mental objects as a ‘going concern’, since when we see the objects we simultaneously see our own direct participation in producing them. This way of talking about consciousness naturally lends itself the philosophical approach of negativism, which is based on the principle that truth reveals itself through the process of the stripping away of false assertions. Any assertion (i.e. any definition) is always going to be a superficial and therefore totally misleading representation of the reality which it claims to stand for and the only way out of this morass of deception is to see through the inherent falseness of all positive statements. The way we ‘see through’ the falseness is simply by seeing that the plausibility of our statements – which is to say the believability of the shadow-shapes that we throw upon our cave wall – is a function of our deliberate refusal to see the part that we play in producing them.
This negative definition of consciousness (if we can be forgiven for this blatant contradiction in terms) places it not below the realm of definite relationships, but incomparably above it. Any law, any positive statement, can never be any more then a crude parody of that from which it arose. It is as if one of Shakespeare’s plays were to be condensed and re-written using only the very limited set of words found in, for example, five pages ripped out at random from one of those pamphlets distributed free by the Jehovah’s Witnesses. Or as De Vinci’s Madonna were to be reproduced on a computer screen using only three colours and a maximum of a hundred and fifty pixels. Where the parody comes in is because the inferior copy then proceeds to replace the original, and implicitly claims all the glory for itself, which is what positive statements – when taken on their own terms – always do. To use the Zen image, positive assertions are like brigands or bandits who steal gold which rightfully belongs to the Emperor and then arrogantly claim it as their own. The Emperor, the implication is, would have used the gold for noble purposes, whereas the brigands naturally have no interest beyond deplorable self-aggrandizement. We can also understand this in terms of topology – the capacity to facilitate any rule whatsoever corresponds to a perfectly flat surface, whereas a particular rule corresponds to a scratch or groove upon that surface. The flat surface is the situation where all descriptions or statements are equally ‘acceptable’ (or equally ‘true’), and the groove is where one statement is ‘true’ and all other statements are, by default, automatically ‘untrue’. The groove represents the informationally collapsed situation, the over-simplification, whereas the flat surface stands for the infinitely complex, infinitely rich un-collapsed situation, i.e. the state of original symmetry that prevailed before everything was over-simplified down to a single crude statement, the description that seeks to exclude all other description, the ten-a-penny bandit who declares himself Supreme Emperor.
The Universal Set can, as we know, be explained in an open-ended sort of a way by saying that it is the set of all possible rules. Whatever the rule is, it is included. This sort of inclusivity has no notches with which particular rules can be matched, and then accepted if there is a fit; on the contrary, it presents an equally accepting face to everything that comes along, which is why it can be represented by a flat (or unbiased) surface. Similarly, consciousness can be explained by saying that it is the capacity to see whatever is there. Whatever is there, I will see it. It doesn’t make the slightest bit of difference what is there – there is no rule, no criterion, no ‘notch’. What is there isn’t the point, the point is that whatever is there I will see it, or be aware of it. This open-ended way of explaining consciousness is radically different to our current petty-minded approach – it couldn’t be more different. The way we insist on envisaging consciousness (when we envisage it at all) is as if it were a ‘thing’, as if it were an object like all the other objects we are always thinking about.
The dreadful paradox inherent in this don’t seem to bother us in the least – it appears that we are so keen for consciousness to be just another conditioned phenomenon that we are more than happy to overlook it. The question of how consciousness could possibly be its own object is one that we in the West have no time for although Eastern philosophies, as Alan Watts never tired of pointing out, have long taught the impossibility of the tooth biting itself, or the eye seeing itself. It is remarkable that the notion that consciousness is not some paltry, grubby sort of a thing that just came about by chance (a peculiar side-effect of chemicals rubbing together in our brains) is a notion that is so deeply unpopular in our culture. Our universities produce learned professors who solemnly inform us that awareness is no more than a peculiar side-effect of certain specific electrochemical processes in our brains, that it is an unnecessary stranger in this universe. The suggestion that consciousness is actually the basis of everything, that it is the source of all phenomena, is guaranteed to produce the blankest of looks. No one is going to win any academic prestige by saying such a strange thing as this, but yet if you explain how awareness is produced by chemicals rubbing together, or how the phenomenon of consciousness is coded for in some way by DNA, then everyone will proceed to marvel at such evident profundity.
When we define consciousness in the ultimately open-ended way as we have just done the ‘problem’ is that it is now nowhere to be found – it is no longer within our mental field, it is no longer something that we can look at and study. This represents a loss (or deprivation) to us, seeing as how we are so used as we are to orientating ourselves towards positively defined objects, things that we can ‘catch hold of’ conceptually. We don’t like the ‘negative’ approach to consciousness because this places uncertainty above certainty in the scheme of things and our whole way of thinking is based on certainty being superior to uncertainty. Mathematician Rudy Rucker argues that this prejudice goes back to the Ancient Greeks and beyond. The philosophers of ancient Greece, says Rucker, saw things that were not measurable, regular, and properly defined as being essentially odious or reprehensible. They did not take kindly to anything that smudged Creation’s perfect outline; order was to be admired, whereas the disorderly, the chaotic and the unbounded were to be viewed with distaste – the word for irregularity, unruliness and unboundedness (the chaotic and the infinite) was apeiron, and apeiron, Rucker states, was a pejorative term. The reason for this fear and revulsion towards the infinite, towards anything that does not play ball with our neat and orderly logical picture of things is not hard to fathom – inasmuch as we derive our sense of meaning, our sense of belonging, and our sense of security from a definite picture of the world and our place within that world, anything that throws doubt on the supreme authority of our rational understanding is a very dangerous thing indeed.
The reason we don’t like consciousness to be above (or ‘prior to’) the set of knowable elements which it is the job of the rational mind to provide us with is because the rational mind itself then has to play second fiddle, and the one thing that the rational mind doesn’t like to do is to take second place to any other principle. Since the rational mind is essentially equal to the set of assumptions that we need to make in order to obtain the definite or unquestionable picture of the world we depend upon for our sense of psychological security it has to be the case that it must be of primary rather than secondary importance. It cannot be the case that there could be ‘something else’ that takes precedence because if there was then that ‘something else’ would constitute a fatal threat to the whole ball-game. It is as if the CIA or MI5 or some other such agency were to elect to maintain security procedures as usual with regard to the protection of the integrity of their operations, whilst allowing that the normally absolutely scrupulous observance of these procedures may be disregarded from the time to time on some sort of unspecified basis. This would obviously render the whole enterprise completely and laughably pointless – if security is to be there at all is must take precedence over everything else. Security, if it is to do its job at all, must by necessity over-rule everything else. In this sort of thing here are of course no half-way measures – either you go all the way or you don’t do it at all. For the game of rationality this is also true – since the world of positively defined things depends on an absolute embargo of any other, competing viewpoints on the matter the instigation of that embargo must always come before everything else, no matter what. Acknowledging consciousness as an a priori state of affairs is simply not on the cards as far as the rational mind is concerned, and it never will be. It is allowed to theorize about consciousness as much as it wants, but whatever else happens consciousness can never be granted precedence to its trivial theorizing. In a nutshell – it is okay for us to rationalize awareness but not okay to be aware of rationalization. In order for the process of rationalization to work at all it has to take it totally for granted that its key assumptions – its yardsticks – are complete; more than this, the process requires that we have zero curiosity in what the key assumptions actually are. Even though these foundation stones – the foundation stones of reason – are granted supreme importance (since they lie behind everything we think) it doesn’t really matter what they are. On the face of it it matters, but really this is no more than tokenism – all that matters is that there should be something that we can use as an unquestionable yardstick, something ‘unquestionably certain’ that we can use to impart unquestionable certainty to the world at large.
The key asymmetrical stipulation that it is ‘okay one way but not the other’ is a basic feature, if not the basic feature, of the mental process by which we render the world ‘knowable’ (which is to say, measurable, conceptualizable, categorizable, analyzable, describable, etc). In order to be able to know the world, i.e. in order to be able to say or think something definite about it, we have to hide from ourselves a key element of the process. This is the actual nature of the process by which we manufacture positive knowledge – this is how it works, this is the only way in which it can work. In order to obtain the apparent benefit of positive descriptions it is necessary to do something whilst concealing from ourselves that we are doing that thing. In order for the mechanism to work at all, we have to be thoroughly oblivious to how it works. We have to be ‘unconscious’, so to speak. What are saying here of course is of course simply that the production of entropy is an essential part (actually the essential part) of the knowledge-creating process. This statement itself constitutes an awareness that we do not have the least interest in cultivating, which is why you can read books on psychology every day of your life and still not ever come close to reading anything about the role of entropy in creating the positive world which matters so very much to us. Curiously (or rather not so curiously) the one important fact is left out of the so-called science of psychology, and absolutely everything else – the more trivial the better – is thrown in. As a result of this entirely scurrilous policy of omitting the single most salient principle in psychology and throwing in veritable mountains of red-herrings the one thing that is absolutely guaranteed is that no one will ever become any the wiser by studying modern ‘scientific’ psychology!
Entropy, in its psychological rather than physical aspect, is such that when we do not understand it, it rules us completely and as a result we cannot see anything for what it is. On the other hand, when we do understand it this very understanding reverses the normally irreversible process of entropy. The very act of understanding entropy is itself intrinsically ‘anti-entropic’ – simply to see entropy, and acknowledge it for what it is, is sufficient to guide us back into a relationship with a genuine (i.e. non-corrupted) reality. Therefore, to say that the understanding of the role of entropy in functioning of the rational mind is essential for any bona fide psychologist is to seriously understate the matter. We can summarize this discussion by saying that the negative definition of consciousness is ‘that which presents an equal face to all things’. Whilst consciousness can be pointed at in some sort of a way by saying that it is a state of ‘perfect symmetry’, the rational mind can be defined by saying that it is a dissymmetrical state of mind that is constitutionally unable to perceive its own dissymmetry. The rational mind, we might say, is based on ‘legitimized bias’, which is to say rules.
RULES WHICH WE CANNOT SEE CREATE SHADOWS
It is these rules (i.e. these spuriously legitimized biases) that are behind the multitudinous positive projections which go to make up the so-called ‘reality’ that we inhabit. Rules cast long shadows and it is these shadows which we, like the people in Plato’s cave, are so very interested in the whole time. To state this more formally –
This principle, the principle whereby symmetry-breaking (i.e. the production of entropy) creates discernable form or delineation where before there was none can clearly be applied to the production of the physical or tangible universe just as much as it can be applied to the production of the positive mental universe of ideas, beliefs, perceptual/conceptual categories, etc. It is this very parallel which makes it so very hard to gain insight into the psychological process whereby we create a positive (i.e. unquestionable) reality for ourselves with our mental projections. On the one hand it is true that the negative approach has been running through philosophy and religion since the time of the ancient Egyptians and beyond. It is also true that in modern times the negative approach, the via negativa, has been re-invented independently both as postmodernism in the humanities and instrumentalism in natural science. On the other hand our intuitive understanding of the principle that we construct the universe ourselves with our own assumptions, our own mental activity seems to be totally at odds with the independent-seeming nature of the macroscopic physical universe. On the subatomic level it seems to be the case – as numerous laboratory experiments have confirmed – that the way we approach phenomena conditions what we find out about them, but this is most obviously not the case in the mundane world in which we actually live. I do not create a double-decker bus with my assumptions – it will in fact quite happily run me over no matter what I assume or do not assume and so my best bet is to treat it with the greatest of respect and get out of the way if I possibly can. The conclusion that we are left with here is that the physical world is most definitely not a ‘mental projection’ and so all this postmodernist, deconstructionist, relativistic business is a total load of nonsense. The trouble is, however, if I jump to this conclusion (momentarily satisfying though that may be) I turn my back on the most psychologically liberating insight that it is possible to have and end up as a result my ‘cleverness’ totally dead-ended in the cul-de-sac of unreflective materialism, doomed to be doing nothing but twiddling my toes and picking my nose until the day I die.
The easy attitude of unreflective materialism has the very serious drawback of consigning me to a terminal situation of psychological non-growth – it guarantees me a permanent place in an appalling morass of unending mental stagnation. Not to put too fine a point on it, if I ingeniously decide that I am merely a ‘thing’, and the whole universe is just a collection of other ‘things’ (which is what I do by default decide when I exclude radical uncertainty from the picture) then I have at one stroke eliminated the source of wisdom, happiness, curiosity and compassion from my life – and all for the sake of the trivial satisfaction of having an understanding of the world that agrees neatly with the wretchedly two-dimensional postage stamp scope of my ‘toy-town’ logical mind. If I give up my curiosity about ‘what is really going on’ and blandly accept things as things and myself as another thing there is an immediate crude satisfaction to be had from this. I can cynically scoff at any views which challenge the supremacy of the materialist paradigm and feel good about being hard-headed enough to see life straight, and not buy into any airy-fairy hippy bullshit, but what I don’t tend to see is the fact that I have obtained this triumphant feeling of being right at my own cost. The only way I can obtain the security of feeling sure that my fantastically crude and banal view of the universe is the right one is by making myself frighteningly, appallingly dumb in the process, and yet I am so very keen to avail of this security I never stop to consider just how desperately drastic a downside this is.
Even if evidence forces me to respect a double-decker bus as an actual, self-existent entity and not a projection of my mind, this does not mean that I should use this as an excuse to regress to the sort of ‘red-neck’ mentality which obstinately and smugly refuses to acknowledge its own projections, and which is flatly devoid of any interest whatsoever in questioning the surface-level certainties by which it so gracelessly lives. The confusing factor is due to our failure to see that the world which we live in is made up of a juxtaposition of two types of shadows. There are the shadows thrown up by the information collapse (or series of information collapses) that created the physical universe, and there are the shadows that are thrown up by the information collapse (or series of information collapses) that created my rational-conceptual mind. Generally speaking, if my adaptation to the world which I find myself in is good, then the symmetry-breaks that have taken place in my consciousness correspond the symmetry-breaks that have taken place in this particular cosmos. Relatively speaking, therefore, my framework can be said to be ‘the right one’ (it is right in relation to the laws embodied in this physical world) but as regards the state of Perfect Symmetry from which everything arose there is simply no such thing as ‘the right framework’.
This is of course precisely what symmetry means, it means that there are no disymmetries in it anywhere, no up no down, no left no right, no positive no negative, no right no wrong. This is what Krishnamurti was getting at when he famously said that ‘truth is a pathless land’. Our thoughts and theories never lead us to the truth because they are paths and paths never go anywhere apart from themselves – the one thing they can never do is to lead us to the state of path-lessness. A bias which is not aware of itself can never lead to the truth because it has already taken its own arbitrarily made assumptions as ‘the truth’, and then forgotten all about them. Because has implicitly accepted its own arbitrary and utterly taken-for-granted distorted basis as being not a distortion but the right and proper foundation for everything, it can never go anywhere else. Wherever it goes it brings with it ‘the slant-which-is-it’ (which it can’t see as a slant) and as a result it never actually goes anywhere.
So far what we have been saying can be summarized as follows. A symmetry-break (which is to say, an information-implosion or collapse) produces shadows or occlusions in the total transparency of the symmetrical situation. The shadows that are produced are without substance, being the result of a loss rather than a gain, but in our normal mode of consciousness we relate to them as positive entities, just as a gap or a hole can very easily be perceived as a positive entity if we focus on it in a reversed sort of a way. In terms of ‘light and dark’, inversion therefore means that we see occlusions to the light as being actual things, whereas the light itself (which is the only ‘real’ phenomenon in this) we do not notice at all. This sounds all very fine on one level, and it makes perfect sense to say that there could be such a thing as inversion whereby we focus on everything in an inverted fashion so that the absence of light can be seen positively, but we may be forgiven for wondering exactly how all of this is supposed to apply to the subject in hand, which is the causal relationship between symmetry-breaking and the positive (i.e. physical) universe on the one hand, and the inner world of positive mental images or ideas on the other.
The first thing we can do in order to make this argument a bit more practically applicable is to recall what was said in Chapter 1 about the principle of inversion as it applies to the creation (or rather selection) of ‘a rule’ (or ‘a set’, which is the same thing). This is a general approach and as such it presents no practical difficulties, since there is no problem with the legitimacy of the maths involved. What we said is that there are two situations to be considered, one of which is that which exists prior to the imposition of the rule, and the other of which is that which prevails afterwards. These two situations can be set out as follows –
DISYMMETRY MEANS INVERSION
Where what we have called ‘inversion’ comes into this is because of the way in which the latter situation completely excludes (or ‘replaces’) the former, without leaving any indication that this is what it has done. The lack of any information regarding the process whereby the rule was created is an essential part of the process – the rule can only be a rule if it scrupulously fails to mention the fact that it was freely chosen in the first place. This might be said to be the rule’s secret – it is a secret which it cannot let itself know about without ceasing to be what it thinks it is. If the rule did let itself know about the way in which it was freely chosen then would no longer be able to take itself seriously – it would no longer be able to see itself as a rule. The relationship between ‘open’ and ‘closed’ is a curious one, with more twists in it than might be expected at first. As Professor James Carse says with regard to the infinite game versus finite games, former includes the latter but the latter cannot ever include the former. Freedom includes limitation but – obviously enough – limitation cannot contain freedom without ceasing to be limitation. On the other hand, if freedom exists prior to limitation, then freedom clearly carries on being the case no matter what and so limitation must contain freedom after all. Limitation must be as full of freedom as freedom is full of freedom, which is perplexing to say the least.
The answer to this apparent contradiction is straightforward enough – limitation is limitation only on its own terms. We can also say that limitation only appears when we ‘over-simplify’ the prior state of affairs to produced an informationally down-graded version of that state. To put this in colloquial terms –
So far we have been thinking in terms of Set Theory, but the idea that limitation is tautologically produced can equally well be explained in terms of Game Theory. We can define ‘a game’ as follows –
This means that the only events recordable (or describable) in a game are those events that correspond to the set of established categories which go to make up that game. Anything that happens which isn’t recognized in the all-important set of rules as a legitimate event doesn’t come into the picture at all. So if the striker in a football match pulls out a harmonica and blows a quick tune as he or she runs across the field, this behaviour – as long as it doesn’t detract from the player’s actual performance – does not contribute anything, one way or the other, to the development of the game. There is no room anywhere within the rules of football for any consideration of a player’s musical virtuosity (or lack of the same) on a harmonica and so – as far as the game is concerned – the event simply never happened. Within the terms of a particular game the only events that can ever take place are those events that the game elects to take seriously and so what is happening in all this is that we are creating our own private universe, a universe which only includes what we want it to include. This ‘private universe’ is based upon rules, but once these rules are in place, and we have exclusively focussed our attention on the events that unfold within the game, we do not notice that the game represents a strictly limited domain. The reason we don’t notice this is because we aren’t paying attention to what the rules exclude, we aren’t paying attention to anything which doesn’t exist within the terms of the game. Since we aren’t paying any attention whatsoever to what lies outside the domain of the game we do not have any referents to tell us that there is an ‘outside’ of the game, and so we don’t see the crucially-important limitation as a limitation. If it happened that we were open to stuff that has no place within the scheme of the game then we simply wouldn’t be playing the game, since the only way the game can exist is when we take its rules seriously. The fact that we do not pay attention to what lies outside the limited domain of the game means that we do not know that the game is limited (i.e. we do not know that the game is only provisionally real) and this is the only way that a game can get to be a game.
SUBSTITUTING THE TRIVIAL FOR THE PROFOUND
As soon as we start playing the game there is a sort of a ‘flip-over’ that occurs – beforehand my attention was open, which is to say unrestricted, and afterwards my attention is closed, it is ‘restricted without knowing that it is restricted’. Once the rules have been chosen, and the conditions of the game set up, we tune in and watch what unfolds. In a shallow sort of a sense, what unfolds is unknown, unprogrammed, uncertain, and it is for this reason that we find it fascinating. This ‘arena of trivial uncertainty’ absorbs our attention completely, it sucks up all our awareness. The reason the unfolding pattern is only trivially uncertain is of course because nothing genuinely strange or unpredictable is ever going to happen. Nothing radically uncertain ever happens in a game – not if the game in question is played constantly for a billion trillion years.
There is something very peculiar going on here that can be described in terms of an ‘invisible transition’. Beforehand my attention was free to attend whatever it is that was there, and the type of ‘unfolding’ that this involves is of the indisputably profound sort – because there is no restriction anything at all is free to happen and so what I perceive is bound to be radically uncertain, radically unpredictable. Afterwards the ‘kick’ that I got from watching the unfolding of the radically unpredictable is replaced with the kick that I get from following the unfolding of trivial uncertainty and such is the nature of the transition that I never notice that the genuine article has been replaced with an infinitely inferior replica – I never notice that a deep mystery has been replaced by a supposed ‘mystery’ that is actually no mystery at all. Within the terms that we have been using up to now we can say that the invisible transition means that I never notice that the profound freedom which is the freedom to choose any rule is replaced by the superficial (i.e. deceptive) freedom to obey one particular rule. The transition is therefore not just from one degree to another, but rather it is a transition from the principle of freedom to the inverted or reversed principle of freedom, which is absolute constraint which falsely represents itself as being true, unfettered freedom.
In order for this transition to occur seamlessly, without any apparent interruption, what has to happen is that my ‘viewpoint’ has to be turned neatly upside-down at the same time that what I am looking at is turned upside down. Thus, by looking at trivial uncertainty (the freedom to obey the rule) with a viewpoint that is all of a sudden inverted, what I am now looking at does not appear like an inverted version of radical uncertainty. It does not appear like an inverted version of ‘the freedom to choose any rule’ because that inverted freedom has taken the place of true freedom, it has effectively (if misleadingly) substituted for it. This is therefore a question of analogous relationships –
IT IS ‘AS IF…’
Whilst one way of explaining what is meant by ‘a game’ is to say that it ‘the domain of all the possible interactions that occur around a specific set of rules’, another way is simply to say that a game is an exercise in ‘as if…’ As we have already said, playing a game is the same thing as creating a toy-universe, and continuing on this basis as if the toy-universe where actually the real one. This clearly ties in with set theory just as much as it does with games – in both cases is what we are basically saying is “Let us see what happens when such-and-such is allowed to be the case…”. The essential point here is that we are setting the parameters within which the experiment is to take place and it is only what happens within these parameters that we have any interest in. This automatically means that whatever does happen is bound to be trivial since the parameters that we have put in place cannot be breached without the game ceasing to be a game. If it were the case that a game was to be defined in an ‘open’ fashion by saying that it is ‘the domain of all possible interactions taking place around an unspecified set of rules’, or if we were to say that the game in question is ‘the set of possible interactions occurring between elements whose nature and properties are unknown’ then this would not be a game at all, but actual life. In terms of set theory, it would no longer be a set that we are referring to, but the Universe Set, which is a paradoxical use of the word ‘set’ since there is no ‘inside’ and no ‘outside’ to the Universal Set (without there being and inside and an outside the very meaning of the word ‘set’ dissolves). Using James Carse’s terminology, what we are talking about then would be ‘the Infinite Game’, which is the situation where the rules and goals are subject to continual radical revision, i.e. –
We said earlier that a rule only gets to take itself seriously by virtue of the fact that certain key information (information that is highly relevant to it) is kept a very strict secret. Information that has become unavailable is simply entropy and entropy enters into the picture (i.e. symmetry is lost) when we lose sight of the fact that the game is intentional, when we forget that what we are now taking so seriously only came about as a result of a deliberate experiment in self-limitation. A rule (or stipulation) does not itself contain entropy. A boundary does not contain entropy. A boundary is the topological expression of a rule and a rule is basically a stipulation of what exactly is allowed. In terms of sets, we can talk about the rule as a ‘criterion’ which is a perfectly precise specification of exactly what elements are to be included on the inside of the set-defining boundary. As we said in Chapter 1, a rule has two unequal sides which it turns to the mathematical universe – on the one hand it specifies what is to be included but on the other hand it does not specify what is to be excluded. If the rule did try to specify what was to be excluded it would run into insurmountable difficulties because this would mean that it would have to specify absolutely everything and this is an impossibility since the rule would have to be infinitely versatile, and if it were infinitely versatile then it would have to lose the logical consistency that it needs to make it ‘a rule’. The way that the rule works is not by specifying what it doesn’t want but by completely ignoring anything that does not match the specification of what it does want. What this means is that the rule gets rid of information without knowing (or caring) what it is getting rid of – it dumps information, in other words. Dumped information is not simply information that has been put to one side for the moment, possibly to be recalled if the need arises, it is information that we have rendered completely inaccessible since at the same time we forget about it we forget that we have forgotten.
And yet a rule is still not the same thing as entropy, despite the fact that it is plainly in the business of producing entropy. Entropy, we may say, is a rule that cannot be seen to be a rule, or a boundary that cannot be seen to be a boundary. If I see a boundary as a boundary (if I see it as what it is) then I can see that there is something else on the other side of it but if I cannot see the boundary to be a boundary (i.e. an arbitrary division) then I naturally take it that what lies within the boundary is all that there is. A good way to explain this idea is by drawing a parallel with the phenomenon of ‘visual neglect’ (or hemianopia) which can occur following a stroke or some other injurious event occurring to the brain. In hemianopia there is no visual perception on one half of the visual field (the half corresponding to the opposite left or right hemisphere of the brain where the injury has occurred). It might be expected that this would result in an obvious gap or blank space in the visual field but what actually happens is that the visual field shrinks to ‘cover up for the gap’, as it were, and so what we end up with is a shrunken visual field in which the gap has been seamlessly excluded. The fact that the new, reconfigured visual field has much less scope than it used to, that it contains less visual information is itself not apparent to us, any more than the ‘gap’ is apparent.
‘Invisible information loss’ is just another way of talking about entropy – it is essentially a form of corruption. Corruption implies that the loss of value that has taken place is kept a closely guarded secret so that no one suspects that anything remiss has in fact occurred. So if I am a corrupt politician I will take pains to maintain the illusion of my integrity – the image is at all times bright and shiny and clean, but underneath this gorgeously air-brushed exterior all sorts of grubby secrets are kept hidden. I am superficially beautiful and immaculately dressed on the outside (like a political Barbie doll) but on the inside I am full of teeming, writhing maggots and hideously decayed flesh. If I was a politician who took bribes from businessmen, property developers etc in return for favours received and I was quite open about this, never attempting to conceal or deny the fact, then I could hardly be called ‘corrupt’. On the contrary, this would make me a remarkably and spectacularly honest politician. Similarly, if I was a sexually debauched individual and I freely acknowledged my licentious behaviour I would not be corrupt – I would be exactly what I seem to be, exactly what I show myself to be. But if I happened to be a religious leader famous for his uncompromising stance against immorality in all its nefarious guises, then I would in this case be corrupt.
Thus, a rule is not entropy, a rule which cannot be seen as a rule is entropy. Mental entropy therefore means that we live in a world that is shrunken because it is missing a lot of information, but which we cannot see to be shrunken. Because I am hemmed in on all sides by arbitrary boundaries (or limitations) whose existence I never ever suspect, I am compelled as a result to live out my life within the bounds of the vastly over-simplified version of the world that the programming in my head produces for me. If I were playfully experimenting with various ‘toy-universes’ this would be one thing but this is something else entirely; this is serious not playful because I really and truly do not have the faintest intimation that there is anything beyond the over-simplified world that I have elected to inhabit. Moreover, there is no limit to how far I can regress in the unreal direction which comes into pragmatically real existence as a result of increasing mental entropy. I can go on taking out more and more slices of the pie of life, and throwing them carelessly into the bin, and still I will be absolutely convinced that I have the whole pie there in front of me. No matter how informationally depleted my situation might be, I can always summon up a splendid (virtual) pie for the table.
This sounds as if there is some basic violation of the laws of nature going on but this is not really the case since there is always a balance between the apparent gain (i.e. the integrity of the superficial image or form) and the cost, which is exacted and paid out of sight somewhere. This idea is not an unfamiliar one. We can think for example of a prestigious car showroom full of sleek new cars straight out of the factory as being the ‘apparent gain’ and the mountain of waste materials that has been produced in order to obtain the gain. On the one column of the accounts we have a fantastic gleaming new top-of-the-range car, and on the other column – the debit column – we have the entropy incurred during the manufacturing process. Entropy here can be seen in classic thermodynamic terms – an increase in low grade heat energy which cannot be used to drive any other processes, an increase in oxidation products such as carbon dioxide (where the useful oxygen has been tied up in a form that is unavailable), an increase in toxic materials that, far from being merely useless are actually harmful, and so on. We can also add to the debit column the degradation of the ecosystem that inevitably occurs as a result of manufacturing cars – where there is any sort of industry there is bound to be a down-grading or simplification of the relationships that go to make up the local ecology. A loss of ecological complexity happens wherever nature is ‘milked’ for short term benefit, for example in large-scale farming – we think we are progressing but in reality we are simply incurring a debt, a debt that we just don’t want to think about.
The idea of the creation of entropy within the physical environment, within the physical frame of reference, comes to us much more readily than the creation of what might be called ‘human’ or psychological entropy. To continue with the example of the showroom full of marvellously new cars, it is not hard to understand how this comes about only as a result of the production of much pollution and environmental degradation behind the scenes. This is true for human civilization in general – the bit we are supposed to look at is shiny and glamorous and attractive, but behind this pleasing front-piece there is a veritable mountain of garbage (unattractive, useless and even toxic stuff, in other words). Walking down a shopping street we are subjected to glossy images of happy, care-free, good-looking consumers wearing snazzy attire, but producing this immaculate ‘consumer-type’ virtual reality on the level of the shopping mall or high street requires industrialization on a massive scale. Neatly presented steaks or chicken breasts on the supermarket shelf require industrial farming, slaughter houses, meat-processing factories, fleets of articulated lorries on the road and so on. We all know this very well but the point is not to say that this is ‘wrong’ but simply to point out that attractiveness of the final product, the pleasing feeling we obtain from walking along down the aisle of the supermarket and choosing what it is we want for dinner relies on us turning a blind eye to the other half of the picture. Looking at models walking down a catwalk we can sit back and enjoy the show, but if we had to be aware of everything that goes on behind the brief two-dimensional façade of clothes and flesh to produce the show that we are enjoying we simply would not be able to look at it in the same way. This is a straightforward equation –
This brings us to what we have called human entropy – in order for the cult of the image to reach the level of fruition that it has done in our present-day culture it has been necessary to ‘dumb down’ all the participants to a truly astonishing degree. This sounds both unkind and ‘unpatriotic’ with regard to the great god of progress but it is an inarguable fact that for the massive regimentation of goods and services we see arrayed so formidably in the world around us to exist and operate it is necessary for a corresponding ‘regimentation’ to exist inside our heads in terms of our mental outlook (i.e. there has to be a standardization of ideas, goals, desires, needs, values…) So, to go back to the original example of the car show-room, it is clear that for the vastly resource-intensive business of producing shiny new super high-performance cars to be an economically viable endeavour, there has to be a market – there has to be a very large number of people willing to pay what is for most of us an extraordinary amount of money for this product. It could be said that we all need to get from A to B and so those flash-looking cars in the forecourt are a necessity rather than a conditioned need, and there is of course some truth in this. But if efficient resource-friendly transport was the only criterion cars would look very different; the vehicles we see on the roads every day are primarily serving fantasy needs rather than practical ones – they enhance our social status, they make us feel powerful and in control, they serve as symbols of sexual and economic potency, and so on. In short, they augment our image of ourselves and for this service no price is too high to pay. The precise nature of this image is determined by what might be called cultural ‘proto-images’ (or templates) and since the various desires we experience with regard to the so-very-important need to have the right image are orientated towards these established proto-images they are of necessity standardized and ‘non-individual’. This lack of individuality (i.e. the presence of regularity) can be seen in terms of a dramatic increase in the entropy content of the system, and the system in question here is made up of people – it is a human system. This of course is a contradiction in terms since the nature of the individual person is that he or she is beyond measurement, categorization, definition, explanation, or prediction. If a human being is standardizable, categorizable, definable, etc then what we are talking about is no longer a human being but a human being who has been informationally degraded to the level of a mechanism or ‘thing’. A system made up of human beings is not a human system at all.
It is not at all apparent to us why our modern regulated environment (the environment which we ourselves have designed) should contain entropy. Quite the reverse is true because we think of ourselves living in the ‘information age’; the implication of this is that our lives are full of information, overflowing with the stuff in fact, and this – needless to say – couldn’t contrast more sharply with the suggestion that we are actually busy drowning in a sea of virulent pseudo-information. To be perfectly blunt about it, our lives aren’t full of information, they are full of bullshit. The natural environment seems to us to sustain simple or basic patterns of thinking and behaviour, whereas the high-tech designed world of today is taken to be synonymous with complex, high-speed living. This however is a fairly transparent illusion – a designed environment is always prefigured by the design, it is always predictable therefore and this predictability is a measure of the increased entropy content of the situation. There is only one (correct) way to interact with a designed environment and so creativity – which is to say, spontaneity – is eliminated. If I am living in an environment that is to a large degree ‘natural’ or ‘accidental’, then the only way for me stand a chance of surviving is if I have a high degree of spontaneity. If I am operating on the basis of a protocol and have a fixed mechanical pattern of interacting with what is around me, then I am just not going to make it. Contrary to what we might think, living in the natural world is an art not a science. Living in the designed world however is no more than a procedure, a learned and habitual reflex of behaviour, just as interacting with other highly socialized dwellers of the designed world is merely a procedure with a ‘right’ and a ‘wrong’ way to do it. If anyone were to doubt that the social environment is a mechanical affair they need only try to get money out of a cash dispenser without entering the correct sequence of numbers. This may sound like a facile example but it isn’t; the whole of the designed environment works like this – approach it in the prescribed way and you get the appropriate pay-out; fail to do so and you draw a blank (or worse). Society itself – which is to say, the human environment – is likewise a mechanical affair. In order to prove this beyond any shadow of a doubt it is only necessary to the make the simple experiment of failing to observe the prescribed rules of interaction. If I fail to respond as the game rules stipulate I should (or if I am unable, for whatever reason) then the people around me will almost unfailingly react in a dismissive, condemnatory or at best embarrassed way (which is just as much an avoidance as blanking or blaming, only it isn’t as self-justifying).
THE ANXIETY OF ‘NOT FITTING IN’
Social anxiety is an excellent example of this – one way to explain social anxiety is to say that it is essentially the result of a consistent difficulty in smoothly and effortlessly observing social game-rules. When game rules are observed smoothly one is invisible, so to speak – the mask or persona is perfect and so no one has their attention drawn to the wearer of the mask. Almost all of us would feel acutely uncomfortable if our mask (the projection of ourselves which is safely and reassuringly under my control) were to be stripped away from us, but because it is in place and effortlessly being exactly the way that we want it to be we feel totally at ease, totally comfortable. If a failure in the smooth functioning of the mask develops then I am of course going to be engaged in desperately trying to shore it up, and this frantic or distressed activity behind the scenes is automatically going to draw attention to the wearer behind the mask, which is the one thing I don’t want to do. The whole point is that the wearer of the mask should remain invisible and that the resultant state of ‘anonymity’ – so to speak – will allow this wearer to be free of any painful self-consciousness. When the comfort-producing mechanism of ‘hiding behind a controlled or designed projection’ is damaged or inoperative then we can all see it and because this reminds us of the fact that we only feel good because we are successfully avoiding the pain of self-consciousness this situation is highly disagreeable –albeit for reasons that we cannot allow ourselves to be properly aware of.
This state of affairs is not necessarily the case however – I am only going to be acutely uncomfortable to be reminded of myself as the wearer (or ‘operator’) of the mask when I am unconsciously identified with the mask, which is to say, when I have forgotten that I am not the mask, that I am not who I act as if I am. Where I to be in this happy state of not being identified with the social persona then I would not have to react to people who are uncomfortable because that are unable to hide successfully behind their masks with an instant reaction of condemnation, dismissal, or some other form of legitimized avoidance. If the experiment is carried out however one will find that the huge majority of people react in predictable or mechanical ways. There is no creative response, no genuine interest or compassion, only automatic aversion (which can show itself negatively as avoidance or blanking or positively as aggression, mockery, morbid involuntary curiosity, etc.) A mechanical response is to instantaneously evaluate and react according, in a standardized way, and a spontaneous response is ‘free’ – in other words, there is no way to predict what it will be other than to say (after the event, so to speak) that it is in some way ‘appropriate’.
THE SYSTEM ONLY LOVES ITSELF
The unpalatable truth of the matter is that social milieu is not spontaneous or creative (except maybe for small pockets here and there) but is a purely mechanical environment. What this means is that society has no genuine interest or concern in the human units which make it up – all it really ‘cares about’ is that the right signals are given by its members. Show the right image and social system accepts you to its mechanical bosom, fail to do so and you are out in the cold. This ‘conditional love’ is of course the key feature of all mechanical families. The irony of conditional acceptance is very obviously that you – as a successfully socially adapted person – are not being valued for who you really are (which is your true unique or individual nature) but for who you are successfully pretending to be in order to obtain love or acceptance. Who you are trying to be is no more than a faithful reflection of society’s own superficial value-system – because the system only values or accepts itself the only way to be valued or accepted is by becoming the system. We can see from this that society is purely and simply acting as ‘a rule’ –
SELF-REFERENTIALITY CREATES DEFINITION
It might be said that the system does have curiosity (i.e. an interest) in those elements which agree with its particular bias but this is not really ‘curiosity’ in any deep sense of the world; really what it is just a shallow sort of an analogue of curiosity – more than that, it is an inverted analogue. The reason it is an ‘inverted’ analogue is as always because of the way in which the key principle is surreptitiously turned on its head. If I as the system am interested in you because you happen to match my evaluative criteria (i.e. the criteria which determine whether I am going to be interested in you or not) then this type of interest can hardly be called ‘curiosity’. I am interested in you because you reflect something in myself that I value, in other words, I am not interested in you but in myself. On the face of it – going by pure external appearances and nothing else – it might look like I have an interest in you and a genuine curiosity in the world around me, but in reality this is not at all the case – really I am just a closed system, a system with zero interest or curiosity about anything outside myself.
There is something inordinately peculiar about all this, something extraordinarily bizarre. The system only has time for itself – it is only interested in itself, it only cares about itself, it only loves itself and yet as a ‘thing-in-itself’ it doesn’t actually exist at all.
Closed self-interest is essential if I want to have a fixed or defined picture of reality; it is only within the closed realm of self-referentiality that positive statements can exist – outside of this realm there is ‘only’ the ever deepening mystery of radical uncertainty and radical uncertainty is the very antithesis of any ‘positive statement’. Just as a rule only gets to be a rule by taking itself seriously, and having no sense of humour at all about itself, so too does the social system only get to be what it is (or rather what it takes itself to be) by being ‘flat’, i.e. by having no sense of humour at all about its rules and no tolerance at all for those who aren’t taking the game as seriously as it does. In order for the structures that exist within the social system to be meaningful to us (in order for us not to see them as being totally and utterly arbitrary) there has to be entropy, and likewise in order for the images that exist within my mind to be meaningful or real to me, there has to be entropy. The capacity of the system to take itself seriously is the same thing as the entropy of the system; it could actually be said that the system is entropy – i.e. it could be said that the system is an absence of information that presents itself as being information. Or to put it another way, the world of structures and things and ideas which we value so much and concern ourselves with exclusively is an impoverishment in the underlying richness of the infinite information content of undifferentiated reality which we take to be the reverse of impoverishment. Equally, the self which construes itself in relation to the structures which it is in the business of ‘taking seriously’ can be said to be a local area of impoverishment – a shadow cast by ignorance, as it were. The suggestion that the self is as much of a fraud as its objects ought not to come as too much of a surprise. If I am to take seriously the gross oversimplification which is ‘the world as I understand it’ then the only way that this can happen is if I cut myself out of the same meagre conceptual cloth that I use to make up all the other images that I constantly concern myself with. If my world is to be made up of ‘exclusively defined objects’ – i.e. objects that implicitly present themselves, and are implicitly understood, as being only what they say they are and nothing more – then the enjoyer (or sufferer, as the case may be) of these objects must also be taken literally, at face value, as being what it appears on the surface to be.
This business of ‘taking gross over-simplifications seriously’ therefore boils down to ‘believing surface level appearances to be the whole of everything’. ‘Surface level appearances’ corresponds to what Buddhist literature refers to as ‘the world of form’ and the world of form corresponds to what we have been calling – in strictly mathematical terms – ‘the rule’. The principle behind rules is, as we have repeatedly said, a principle of deception or trickery. The only way I can get a rule to stand out as being a rule is by restricting my viewpoint to the domain over which that rule has its rightful dominion. In other words –
If this appears to be a bit of cheat then this is because it is. The cheat comes in because any given rule only represents an infinitesimal portion of the Whole, and yet – despite this very humble role it makes the ludicrously grandiose claim of being the supreme Emperor of All. Its implicit message is that ‘what it doesn’t know about simply can’t exist’ and this message is all the more powerful, all the more oppressive, for not being overtly stated. This is after all how the power of ignoring works – if I want to ignore you effectively then I have to pretend that I’m not ignoring anything and that way the ‘ignorance’ is perfect. If I want to truly ignore something then it is no good me making a big deal of turning my back on whatever it is I want to ignore because if I do this I am pointing to it just as much as if I faced it directly. The trick is to look away and look away from one’s own looking away, to ignore and act the whole time as if one is not ignoring anything, and it is this very trick that makes a rule into a rule, and makes the world of form that we rely so very much upon as reliable as we unconsciously take it to be. The ability to effectively do this – the ability to effectively maintain a perfectly unsuspected blindspot – is what we are referring to in this discussion as entropy.
THERE IS ENTROPY IN ORDER
This use of the word ‘entropy’ may seem to diverge from the way in which it is usually used but this is not the case. Entropy is a strictly defined sort of thing even if it is notoriously hard to physically imagine – naturally enough since it arose out of the very abstract mathematical discipline of thermodynamics. We tend in everyday speech to equate entropy with messiness, untidiness, chaos and the diabolical propensity for neatly organized systems to become disordered, and while this is more or less true there is at the same time great potential for confusion in this casual understanding of the word. Suppose the human race were to organized down to the nth degree so that at any one time the Central World Administration would be able to know exactly where each citizen was and what they were doing. This is the sort of order that would bring the purest and most sublime feelings of joy to the bureaucratic heart and yet this sort of predictability (which is necessary for any mechanical system to run smoothly) does not represent a triumph over the dark force of entropy, but actually a victory for that force. Predictable patterns do not contain information, they merely – in an utterly insane way – repeat whatever unit it was that they started off with. Such patterns cannot ever tell us anything about the world but only about themselves, and this is in fact exactly what they keep doing – over and over again, like a particularly self-obsessed bore at a dinner party. The question we would need to ask if we were to stand a chance of avoiding any confusion is this –
The concept of entropy is therefore slipperier than we might initially take it to be – the key point is that the entropy in a system actually invisible to us, if it wasn’t then it wouldn’t be entropy at all, but rather it would be ‘actual information about what is going on’. Entropy is therefore the same thing as what we have been calling inversion. If inversion were to portray itself as inversion then there is no inversion because an honest admission of bias is actually straight. The inverted viewpoint has to set itself up as the unquestionable standard of all that is good and true – it has to have nothing less than a completely unshakeable belief in its own righteousness or else the whole ‘inversion’ business just wouldn’t work at all. Saying that entropy can only be entropy if it is utterly invisible to us is the exact same thing as saying that inversion can only operate as inversion if it implicitly takes itself as being the exact opposite as inversion – which is to say, if it sees itself as being the very soul of straightforwardness and honesty.
This is of course the very essence of inversion. When I look out at the world from the basis of the oversimplified viewpoint that determines both ‘who I am’ and ‘what the world is all about’ I see any disagreement to this neat picture as being chaotic or disorderly. When I come across a pattern of organization that matches my own particular bias I am full of positive feelings for it and I say that it is ‘order’. But because this so-called order is no more and a reflection of what I am automatically predisposed to see as order (i.e. because it is merely a reflection of my own standpoint) it is actually wholly predictable – it is actually nothing other than myself, and ‘myself’ is the most stultifyingly predictable thing the whole wide universe. Predictability is the absence of information, the absence of anything new, but in the psychological sense that we are using the word, it is not necessarily the same thing as entropy. If I see the order that I so admire in the world as being a linear projection of my own cognitive biases, of the key assumptions that underlie what I unconsciously take to be ‘absolute truth’, then the predictability of my own world constitutes pure information. Beforehand I saw the patterns that I live my life by as being order, now I see them as being redundant, as being inescapably inherent in my starting off position, and this perception is something that I certainly would not have been able to predict. This stands to reason – we all proceed as if the ground under our feet really is ‘the ground’, and if this solid, independent, objective and self-existent basis for all is suddenly revealed to be an arbitrary artefact, a fiction that I myself have manufactured for myself without paying attention to the fact that I have done so, then this is without any doubt the biggest shock, the biggest revolution in consciousness, that it is possible to have. They don’t come any bigger than this! Thus, the honest perception of inversion is not inversion – it is pure information, it is a six hundred megavolt bolt of lightening that comes out of the blue and goes through us for a short-cut. Defining information by saying that it is something new is the same as saying that information is that which has the capacity to induce radical change. It terminally upsets the applecart; it disrupts and destroys well established, time-hallowed patterns of organization and the sense of outrage and scandal that we tend to experience in the face of this disruption is due to our inverted perspective on things which sees the status quo as being the unimpeachable source of all that is sacred, and any disturbance to the status quo as being incomprehensibly wicked and terrible.
Properly speaking then, predictability is not entropy but rather entropy is predictability that we see invertedly as being order. Thus, when I survey the system that I am part of and experience a warm glow of pride and satisfaction, this is because I can’t see the redundancy of what is going on here – I can’t see the redundancy of having my own prejudices echoed back at me. This is essentially the same thing as flattery – if you say the things I like to hear and I get a glow of pleasure from this then the reason I am able to feel good is because I don’t see that you know that I want to hear those things, and are playing up to me accordingly. That lack of insight is the entropy, and it is the entropy that allows the satisfaction to be there. What is true for the external projection of my biases is also true internally – if I perceive my own beliefs and opinions with satisfaction, then I am able obtain this euphoric uplift because I don’t see the ghastly redundancy of a system admiring itself. If I am predisposed to valuing a certain pattern of organization – a certain way of seeing and doing things – because that pattern (or the predisposition toward that pattern) is ‘who I am’, then to view myself favourably because I think that I am right to hold to this pattern is fantastically, incredibly unbelievably ludicrous. Who could be so stupid?
The answer to this question is of course that we all could, and that we all do, pretty much all the time. When we look upon ourselves and the wider pattern of which we are a part favourable, with a sense of allegiance and pride, this is because of entropy – we can’t see that we are set-up from the outset to approve of the pattern, that the system always approves of itself. If I am homophobic and I come out with a statement about how they should be punished by society, then I experience satisfaction at my own cleverness in coming out with this statement – I can’t see that it is infinitely predictable that I should make such comments. I don’t have any choice in it whatsoever. To anyone that knows me my homophobic-type statements will come as no surprise – it is not news, it is not worth writing home about, it is not going to upset any apple cart. And despite the deadening redundancy that is inherent in the situation of ‘a prejudiced person expressing his prejudices’ I obtain for myself a truly righteous kick of satisfaction in doing it, for all the world as if I had said something genuinely creative or worthwhile. It is as if I had taken a crap on the pavement, and then looked up to the people passing by me expecting a round of applause for my daring innovation in performing this heroic act.
OUR IDEAS SECRETLY CONTROL US
We can laugh at the inveterate racist who fondly imagines that it is his choice to expound the racist opinions and ideas that issue forth so freely from his direction but his folly is no different from our own, apart from the fact that it is more highly visible. The situation where we are being one hundred percent controlled whilst foolishly imagining that it is us who are in control is ubiquitous. Another visible example of this false freedom is an angry person who believes that he is choosing to think the angry thoughts that are going through his head. In actual fact he has no choice, but just so long as he gives his tacit assent to the torrent of anger that is flowing through him he is able to maintain the comforting illusion that he is in control. A less obvious example would be a patriotic person who thinks that their patriotism is a free or volitional act on their part. It is obvious that a patriot must perceive his patriotism as volitional – if he were to see it as something he has no choice at all in then its essential self-assumed character (which is supposedly ‘noble’ or ‘glorious’) would instantly be fatally damaged. How can an accidentally acquired invisible compulsion be seen as a noble attribute, or as an expression of anything more heroic than that ubiquitous mental state of abjectly cowardly and terminally irresponsible enslavement?
Whatever our slant, our belief, our rational understanding of the world happens to be we are automatically compelled to see it as being right. And then, on the basis of it being right, and on the basis of us being clever enough to know that it is right when millions of others adhere to mistaken viewpoints, beliefs, ideas, we get to feel smug and proud of ourselves. This absurd and pathetic pride, rather than being seen as a sort of badge or emblem of nauseating stupidity is seen invertedly as a justifiable and even laudable attitude. Because my county is specially great (in a way that only us honest-to-goodness nationals can properly appreciate) it is of course only fitting that I should feel good about being a citizen of that country. This same is true for any slant or bias – because we know it to be true we can’t help feeling on some level smug to be clever enough to be on the right side, unlike all the other poor deluded fools we see around us every day. Needless to say the affirmation of our own cleverness which the belief in question automatically provides us with goes to create the most effective mental trap imaginable. What prison could be harder to escape from than this?
The point we were making earlier is that predictability is not entropy, but rather that predictability which we cannot see as predictability is entropy. It could also be said of course that predictability which we cannot see as predictability is a trap because if we can’t see the predictability of everything we see, think and do then we won’t miss the genuine freedom that we don’t actually have. There is no ‘divine discontent’ in evidence, only a kind of universal bland complacency – a drab mediocrity that is somehow uninterested in the fact of its mediocrity, and which instead of questioning itself or growing unsatisfied with itself busies itself instead with the endless round of its unremittingly tedious concerns. This profoundly uninspiring situation constitutes the ‘prison house of the everyday mind’, the prison which we believe to be freedom. When I act from the basis of a logical standpoint (when I follow the dictates of my rational mind, in other words) everything that follows is by definition predicated upon the logic of my starting-off position. There is simply no escape from this – there is no way for the rational mind to be free or to give birth to anything that is in any way new or different.
Saying that we can’t see the predictable nature of everything we see, think and do is of course the same thing as saying that we can’t see the absence of any true volition in our lives. This is not a totally unheard sort of idea: Georgy Ivanovich Gurdjieff for one emphasized in his teachings that we are machines, lacking in any true will of our own, helplessly identified with the accidentally-acquired impulses that drive us to behave the way that we behave. Such is the power of this ‘identification’ however that we remain absolutely convinced that we are the true authors of our own words, that we are doing what we do because we genuine do want to, and not because we don’t have any choice. Ironically, those who come closest to glimpsing the truth are alcoholics and heroin addicts, or people in the grip of severe obsessive disorders, since only when matters become extremely obvious do we see that we are being controlled by our ideas rather than vice versa. The majority of us do simply do not have our backs up so unmistakeably against the wall – we do not impact brutally enough with rock bottom – and so we never get the chance to see how helpless we really are. As Jung said, it seems that we never ever change unless we really absolutely do have to, and if we have the leeway to continue unchallenged on our petty and unfulfilling orbits forever we will do, and we won’t even get that curious about why our lives have to be so petty and unfulfilling. It might bother us from time to time of course, but for the most part we will concern ourselves with other things – safe, normal, comfortable things, things that don’t actually matter at all.
SUMMARY – THE INVERTED PERCEPTION OF THE SELF
We have been looking at the role of entropy (or inversion) in producing the world of clearly defined images that the rational mind orientates itself towards in order that it might maintain its integrity as a going concern. Entropy both obstructs the light and obstructs awareness of its own obstructing and by this means it produces ‘shadows’ that we take to be real, absences that we take be positive entities or things that exist in their own right. Were we simply to obstruct the light that shines out from behind us, then we would see the shadow-figures projected on the wall but we would know that we had produced them. If however we both obstructs the light and obstructs our awareness that we are obstructing, then we relate to the shadow-world as if it were real, as if it were ‘all that there is’. This metaphorical play of Plato’s comes remarkably close to the bone – almost too close to be called a metaphor. The only adjustment we have to make is to read ‘information’ for light, and then when we do this straightaway allows us to understand Plato’s story of the cave in terms of the progressive stepping down of information – which is to say, in terms of information collapse or symmetry-breaking. In this case, we can say that the original symmetrical situation (the situation which has not been interfered with or manipulated) is a state of unimpeded information flow. Whatever is, is unconditionally allowed to be expressed. Via a process whereby information is taken away and the capacity to know that the information has been taken away is also taken away – a process which quintessentially involves the establishment of conditions, rules or criteria – images or figures are produced which the conditioned mind (itself a product of the symmetry break) perceives in a positive fashion.
The world that we end up with after the information collapse is a world in which the natural order has been surreptitiously reversed. The post-collapse world can be said to be a ‘realm of deception’ since free choice is replaced with compulsion which we invertedly understand as true volition. This substitution must rank as the most insidious and complete deception that consciousness can be subjected to – everything is turned on its head in the most appalling of parodies, and yet we all carry on as if nothing untoward had happened. In fact, far from acknowledging that anything dodgy had happened, the inverted state of affairs is sanctified and upheld as ‘the holy of holies’ – the time-honoured and sacrosanct tradition which must never under any circumstances be allowed to be insulted or slighted in any way. This post-collapse state of affairs might also be said to have something of the nature of a conspiracy – it is tacitly understood that we must never ‘go there’, and of course the idea that there might be such a tacit understanding is itself tacitly ignored so that there is no way in at all. The denial is taken further than merely ignoring the fact that something ominous and awful has happened – instead of just not going anywhere near the idea that something incredibly important has been lost, an extravagantly huge amount of ‘spurious effort’ is put into celebrating something that isn’t actually anything. The utterly insane reversal whereby what is real and worthy is neglected and what is inconsequential and unworthy is put up on a pedestal and slavishly served to the exclusion of all else is what the post-collapse situation is all about. Just as the Emperor Caligula was said to have elected a horse to the august office of senator, causing everyone to accept this bizarre substitution with the greatest solemnity, so too are we in the position where, for most of our wakening moments, we have to take seriously all sorts of ‘stuff’ that we really ought to be laughing at.
The preposterous substitution that we are forced to take seriously is not just a perversity that happens for some reason to be inflicted upon us – it is the prior condition upon which the everyday mind is inevitably predicated. Without the scam of elevating what doesn’t matter to the level of unquestionable supreme authority the ball-game of our closed rational life never kicks off, it never stands the remotest chance of getting started. Alternatively, it could be said that without the completely thorough-going deception which is ‘psychological inversion’ the self that I so fixedly take myself to be can never stand a chance of existing. Without the trick of inversion the whole shebang comes undone; in a flash the bullying, hectoring, utterly unrelenting world of our rational concerns and worries winks out of existence as if it had never been there in the first place – which in fact it wasn’t. The raising of the ludicrously inconsequential to the level of super-solemn all-importance is an event of the utmost ubiquity – it happens every time we become preoccupied with a thought, and if any one of us were to be awarded a penny every time this happened they would without any doubt at all be a multimillionaire by the time they reached middle age. When I become preoccupied, however momentarily, by a thought what is happening is that the inconsequential is transformed into the seriously consequential, the exceedingly minor detail becomes the all-consuming issue. Alongside this transformation there occurs the corresponding inability to notice anything strange about what happens – the loss of perspective that strikes when a thought takes hold of our consciousness means that the trivial takes over from the profound quite seamlessly, without any way of us detecting the substitution. So frequently does this happen that for most of us, most of the time, are left without the slightest clue that there is such a thing as a ‘profound’ gap that exists between our thoughts. It is still there, but because one thought or issue replaces the previous one almost instantaneously, we just don’t get around to noticing it. If we did happen to notice it we would probably be frightened – in a world where the dismally trivial has thoroughly replaced the profound, profound takes on the aspect of something very threatening, something to be blocked out at any cost.
The quintessential example of this ‘the-absurd-becoming-the-all-important’ business is the common or garden self, the everyday ‘me’. The me takes itself and all its activities with the utmost seriousness, no matter how mean and banal and down-right pointless itself and its activities might be. This is in fact an excellent all-round definition of the self – it is that which is mean and pointless and banal, and which nevertheless perceives itself as being quite the opposite. This sort of talk is almost guaranteed to be seen as dismissive in the extreme, in that all of our cherished preoccupations – including our most cherished preoccupation of all – are being brushed aside as being ‘laughably unimportant’ and this naturally seems to us to be wrong-headed. The point is however not to brush all our ideas aside as being ‘unimportant’ (which tends to imply that there is some idea somewhere that is important, even if it is only the idea that all ideas are unimportant) but to see the self and its ideas in their proper place, in perspective rather than out of perspective. So rather than trying to deny the self and its assertions – its theories and its plans – we see it within the greater context, which is to say, we see the assertion or rule within the greater context of that which is ‘not the rule’. The figure is seen within the open context of the ground that facilitates it and so it can be seen as it is, rather than being seen as what it itself says that it is within the closed (or self-referential) context of its own terms. This is of course the same basic principle that we keep on coming back to –
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.