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Rational Madness

We live in an age where the rational explanation is king, and this is doing us no good at all. Jung made this observation sixty years ago and if it was true then, it is a hundred times truer today. What Jung was saying, to put it very simply, is that ‘it is not clever to be clever’ and if this sounds absurd or perverse in some way, then that is in itself an indication of just how little perspective we have on rationality, of how utterly blind we are to the limitations of reason. The point is not that rational thought is invalid, or ‘bad,’ but rather that is has a limited domain of applicability, so that if we forget this limitedness, and treat thought as though it has universal applicability, then we inevitably find ourselves caught up in all sorts of bizarre contradictions.

 

 

Philosophically, this understanding has been around a long time. Complexity scientist John Casti points out that the awareness of this principle, the principle which says there is an unresolvable contradiction at the heart of all logic, is even mentioned in the Bible, as the Epimenides paradox. This famous logical conundrum, referred to by Gregory Bateson as the cybernetic paradox, known also as the Cretan paradox, is closely related to the ‘liar’ paradox once featured on Star Trek: one of the crew terminally confuses a hostile computer by telling it “Everything I say is a lie…” Theoretically speaking, therefore, we do already know that the engine of our ‘knowing’ – i.e. Aristotelian [either/or] logic – is a limited tool. It is in our culture to know this, but somehow we don’t really grasp the significance of it; we don’t have any practical understanding, only a remote, disconnected academic understanding. The price for turning a blind eye to the fact that all our knowledge is relative (and is not therefore to be pushed too far) is, as Jung said, neuroticism.

 

 

Almost all of us are neurotic to some extent or other, and the symptoms of our neurosis are loss of meaning in life, an obsession with frustratingly trivial details, and a constant underlying anxiety. When taken further, mild neurosis enters the domain of psychiatric illness – obsessive concern with details, anxiety, and meaning exhaustion are taken to the nth degree. The cause is exactly the same whether the neurosis falls inside or outside the normal range of intensity, though. That cause may be stated as follows:  a lack of appreciation of the cybernetic paradox, a failure to understand that logic is a limited (or relative) tool, and not a literal (or absolute) expression of the reality that it seeks to describe.

 

THE TWO TYPES OF EXPLANATION FOR ‘MENTAL ILLNESS’

 

This idea, the idea that what is called ‘mental illness’ is due to something that is not biological, not genetic, not social/environmental, etc., is completely at odds with current ways of envisaging the problem. It goes against the grain of our collective thinking – we’re just not looking in that direction at all. The direction we are looking in is nothing if not straightforward: we want to find an answer which makes sense within the framework of understanding which we are already happy with. We don’t want to have to stretch ourselves, to venture out into strange new paradigms – we just want to crank out an answer based on the theories and technologies that we already have. We don’t want to be provoked into thinking in a different gear, so that we can put a bit of perspective on ourselves; on the contrary – we just want to knock the problem on the head so we don’t have to think about it any more. “Don’t reflect, act!” is our motto. React forcefully and over-confidently, and whatever you do, don’t question why you feel compelled to react so forcefully and over-confidently…

 

TYPE-1

 

So what sort of explanation would we be happy with? One way to put it would be to say that we want to find our answers in the realm of linear cause-and-effect: X happens and so Y happens, therefore if we want to moderate Y we have interfere at the level of X. We choose, therefore, to believe that the cause for mental illness is in something that is not complex, something we can investigate with the same type of thinking which we use to manage our everyday problems. The hidden implication here is that our thinking could not possibly have anything to do with creating neurosis. We argue that it is distorted (or ‘slanted’) thinking which gives rise to anxiety or depression, no one suspects that it is rationality itself which is the cause, even though it is patently impossible to think about anything without putting some kind of a slant on things, as we can plainly see every time we look at one of those diagrams which shows either two human faces, or a vase, depending upon which way you look at it. If you don’t look at the diagram in a special way you simply won’t see what you are looking for – if you don’t have a bias, then you can’t see a face or vase.

 

 

Another way to approach the matter is to say that we want the problem to be something tangible, a local set of conditions that we can correct. The number one favourite, at the moment, is of course the genetic theory, which says that we ought to be able to locate the cause in a particular gene or combination of genes, which gives rise to some abnormality in the physical functioning of the brain. This gives us the possibility of intervening on at least two levels: we can correct or screen out the gene, and we can pharmaceutically correct for the consequence of the genetic defect at the level of neurotransmitter function in the brain itself. Other influential theories have looked at social and environmental conditioning effects (e.g. behaviourism, social learning theory) and at the peculiarities of individual learning (e.g. cognitive behavioural theory, personal construct theory).

 

 

The point about a Type-1 explanation is that it is about looking for a fault in conditioning: there is a right, biologically correct conditioning which equals healthy functioning, or normatively-defined sanity, and so if anything goes wrong we have to manipulate the system back to normal ranges of functioning. This paradigm of mental illness/ mental health carries the important assumption that mental health can be specified in advance, i.e. that it can be known in the same way that I can know what your correct blood pressure ought to be. Another assumption is that the state of ‘ideal’ mental health needs to be homeostatically regulated in some way, which is to say, there has to be a system in place to monitor and correct for fluctuations in the key parameters. Whatever they might be. This paradigm, therefore, is a direct analogue of the models that have proved useful and appropriate in physical medicine.

 

TYPE-2

 

The other direction, which is the direction we are going to be looking in, is something else again – there are no analogues with physical medicine here. This type of explanation for mental illness has nothing to do with conditioning, which is to say, linear cause-and-effect, and absolutely nothing to do with notions of normatively defined ‘optimum mental health’. In this paradigm the state of mental health is not an equilibrium value, by which we mean that it is not a known or specifiable set of values that have to be actively maintained by reference to external standards. This might sound weird, and in fact it is weird, but it is perfectly scientific – its just ‘non-equilibrium’ science, that’s all – the science of non-equilibrium systems, also known as complexity theory or dynamic systems theory.

 

 

What we are suggesting, within the auspices of this new paradigm, is that mental illness is ‘caused’ by us coming into conflict with deep laws, and not by errors in conditioning. The law which shows itself in the cybernetic paradox is not an arbitrary and superficial law of conditioning, it is not a law in the sense that a program written into a computer is a law, or in the sense that the legislation about smoking cannabis is a law. Both of these types of ‘law’ can be changed by a whim, so to speak – I can rewrite my program and I can (in theory) legislate to legalise cannabis use. Even evolution is only based on superficial (or arbitrary) rules, after all, the rule of  ‘the survival of the fittest’ begs the question as to what ‘the fittest’ should be – change the environment and the definition of optimal fitness changes too. In other words, it isn’t important what the rules are, it’s just important that there are rules. This is externally imposed necessity. The cybernetic paradox, on the other hand, is an expression of what we might call ‘intrinsic necessity’, or ‘intrinsic order’. It cannot be dodged or altered or shifted no matter how hard you or I might try to do so. Which ever way you figure it, whether you are an ancient Greek philosopher or a modern day income tax accountant, it always comes out the same, it always rebounds back in your face in exactly the same confounding way.

 

CYBERNETIC PARADOX?  WHAT CYBERNETIC PARADOX??

 

But what exactly is the cybernetic paradox that we have been making so much of? It is certainly something that needs a good bit of explaining.  The essence of it can be expressed as follows:

 

When a system of knowledge (a self-consistent set of descriptive terms) takes itself to be representative of the whole of everything, and gives rise therefore to absolutely unquestionable assertions about the nature of reality, then these assertions, when taken to their logical conclusion, become paradoxical

 

The classic example would be the liar paradox – if I say that everything I say is a lie, then, as Alan Watts puts it, ‘I am speaking the truth only to the extent that I am lying, and I am lying only to the extent that I am telling the truth’. If I speak falsely, then I speak truly, and if I speak truly, then I must be telling a lie…

 

FIXED VERSUS FLUID

 

The logical tangle arises due to the closed self-referentiality of the statement ‘everything I say is a lie’: there is no living (dynamic) relationship between my assertion and reality as a whole, everything is already said, and therefore there is actually no need for reality. ‘Reality,’ we might say, is where ‘everything is not already said’ – the creative principle still operates, there is still stuff that we don’t know. If my statement literally corresponds to whatever it is supposed to be about, then there is no room for anything outside it, and there is no leeway for real motion; it is as if the system of ‘formal description + real world’ equals just the one rigid structure, a continuous solid fixture without the possibility of any unrelated (independent) factors. When everything is accounted for (or described) by a mutually consistent set of rules, what we have is a closed, determinate system. The world is the rules and the rules are the world, and therefore there is no possibility of radical change. We are suggesting here that there always has to be some sort of irrelevant or ‘free’ element, but why should there be? In the world of mathematics, this sort of overall ‘fluidity’ is strongly suggested by Godel’s Incompleteness Theorem. In the physical sciences complexity theory and chaos theory give rise to a similar picture.

 

 

The universe as a whole, according to the complex view of it, is not a continuous stable structure, but it does contain stable, self-consistent structures. These self-consistent structures are articulated upon a point of infinite flexibility (or infinite instability), a cogwheel whose teeth are so fine and so close together that it is perfectly smooth. This is the nature of utter instability, it is not jagged and rough so that it allows little resting places, but perfectly frictionless, so that there is nowhere to stay.  Infinite instability is, in fact, the pivot upon which the whole thing turns – it is the unseen hinge which prevents a log-jam in the works, it is the lubrication which allows qualitatively different states to succeed each other, without the old blocking the new. The ‘cosmic pivot’ is constructed out of unconditional freedom, every thing is allowed, whereas the solid structures are made up of conditional freedom – only certain possibilities are allowed, the rest being prohibited, or excluded.

 

 

To assume that the unfixed whole can be accounted for by a some logical theory or other is to incur paradox: the cybernetic paradox occurs as a blatant indication that something is missing, although the situation looks neat and water-tight on the face of it, an important ingredient has been forgotten about. If the world was a uniform, self-consistent system, then there would be no cybernetic paradox, which would mean that all positive assertions would always be true – ‘yes’ would always be ‘yes,’ – it wouldn’t be rotated by 180 degrees to bounce back at you transformed into an unqualified ‘no’…   The cosmic pivot of infinite instability and infinite possibility can be equated with the principle of ‘creativity’ or ‘uncertainty’. If the creative uncertainty principle doesn’t operate, then there is no possibility of me finding out that my statement isn’t as true as I thought it was, and therefore its inherent contradictoriness cannot ever be transcended.

 

RATIONALITY VERSUS SPONTANEITY

 

In a similar way, if my system of knowledge interprets the world by reference to itself only (which is of course exactly what it does) then all of my assertions, although on the face of it straightforward, ultimately involve me in an impossible struggle. What this means is that all my goal-orientated behaviour, no matter what the goals might be (even including the goal to escape my goals) sews me further into dead-end, a problem that cannot ever be solved. When I place total reliance on rationality, which is to say, my rational description or model of myself and the world, then all the purposeful behaviour which stems from this serves to exacerbate the underlying problem, the super-problem which I am unable even to define, since it is in fact me defining things that causes the problem. Rationality, which is rule-based, is the ‘solid structure’, whereas spontaneity, which is rule-less (or non-algorithmic), corresponds to fluidity.

 

Rationality does not necessarily cause neurotic tangles, interminable anxiety, and unsolvable frustration, simply because it is naturally counterbalanced (or complemented) by spontaneity, which may be defined as action that is not based upon a model of reality, i.e. action without an agenda. The trouble is that we don’t actually acknowledge spontaneity in our system of knowledge. Because we cannot model it (i.e. express it in terms of conditioning) we cannot believe in it.  Culturally speaking, we do not believe that there is anything apart from conditioning! Of course, we use the word spontaneity, and the term is still found in psychiatric text books, but the point (or rather the lack of a point) of it is missed by a mile, the tacit assumption that is made is that spontaneity is at root a rule-based change of mental states. We tend to think that it happens too fast for us to follow the logic steps, but that there are of course logical steps there if only we could uncover them. The idea that spontaneity comes from ‘outside the system’ doesn’t get a look in. This is not surprising if we think back to what we said about the cybernetic paradox, about it arising when a system of knowledge automatically assumes itself to be capable of accounting for the whole of reality. The system assumes that there is nothing that is not the system.

 

ORGANIZATIONAL CLOSURE

 

There is a related idea which we could just mention here, and that is the concept of organizational closure, as defined by Ernst and Christine von Weizsacker (1974) in their model of pragmatic information. An organizationally closed system is a system into which no new information can enter. This is not to say that it is closed to information, because it reacts very effectively to information that corresponds to its own internal organization; what it does mean is that the system will not re-organize itself in accordance to information that does not agree with its way of seeing things. An organizationally closed system cannot change qualitatively, therefore, but only quantitatively, and this is another way of saying that it cannot learn new tricks, but only enact endless variations on the old ones, like a skilful but limited conjurer. The reason that we are introducing this idea is that it provides us with the key to understanding depression, as we shall see later. Anxiety, we might say, arises due to the strain of trying to perform an impossible act, such as building a thousand meter tower out of wooden blocks. Because we can’t see that the operation which we are desperately seeking to perform is impossible, we have no option but to continually redouble our efforts. If we truly understood that there was no chance of success, then there would be no anxiety, just acceptance of the fact.

 

THE ORIGINAL ‘MIND-CRIME’

 

But what about depression? How can depression be related, within the paradigm we are exploring, to the cybernetic paradox?  The answer comes from a consideration of the phenomenon of organizational closure. We said that the cybernetic paradox is a consequence of ‘mistaking the model for reality,’ and that anxiety comes out of the desperation and frustration associated with insisting that reality match our ideas of it. The isolation, futility and sense of existential meaninglessness that are the hallmarks of depression, would therefore be the other side of the picture – I have (we might say) succeeded only too well in substituting my model of reality for reality itself, and as a result I have no connection with life. I live in a perfectly managed charade of life, a mockery of it, and when the satisfaction associated with ‘getting everything under control’ wears off, I am left with only my own lack of authenticity to comfort myself with.

 

 

When we suffer from acute depression, there is often the perception that one has committed somehow an enormous crime, and that one deserves all manner of punishments. Fabricius speaks of ‘the hollow, guilty men of depression’, and speculates that the guilt is related the (metaphorical) crime of killing one’s parents; he also mentions the psychodynamic explanation of guilt feelings from incest. Gnostic Christianity provides another, rather less murky allegory for understanding the cosmic crime: we have confused ourselves with God! Like the dark or false god who rules the earth, we have in our arrogance assumed the divinity of the true deity. I think that the glory is mine, that it is me who has created the universe; I have made myself into a bloated and obscenely offensive caricature of the Creator, and denied myself thereby His saving light. To use Zen master D.T. Suzuki’s metaphor – I have taken by force the gold that rightfully belongs to the Emperor, and I have said that it is mine…

 

MENTAL ILLNESS EXPLAINED IN TERMS OF COUNTING (OR ACCOUNTING)

 

Well, you might be saying, if this is typical of a Type-2 explanation of mental illness, no wonder it isn’t exactly flavour of the month! Gnosticism doesn’t seem very scientific or progressive to us, seeing as how Gnosticism is an obscure heretical form of Christianity which  became more or less extinct over five hundred years ago. From a Jungian point of view, though, the fact that our theory finds parallels within esoteric Christianity and Zen Buddhism demonstrates far better than anything else could the psychological validity of our ideas. This is not to say that we cannot also be scientific though, and a very simple general theory can be arrived at by considering mental illness in terms of counting.

 

 

Rationality, we might say, essentially comes down to ‘counting’. One could also say that rationality equals ‘comparing,’ since counting is the same as comparing. Rational thought, as both David Bohm and Alan Watts have pointed out, is based upon taking ratios, or, more simply, measuring. Measuring, taking ratios, counting, and comparing are all the same operation. What we call mental illness can, therefore, be modelled in terms of counting. We can call this the ‘stock-taking’ or ‘accounting’ model of mental illness, and it goes as follows:

 

ANXIETY – Trying to make the accounts come out right, but suspecting that they won’t. We suspect that, at the end of the day, it isn’t going to add up. The essential action involved here is comparing a projected reality with how we think it should be. The motivation is based on a negative rather than a positive goal, i.e. fear of an undesired outcome

 

 

OBSESSION – Counting for the sake of counting.  I can’t stop counting! Again, the basic action is comparison: we compare how it is with how we would like it to be.  Obsessive-compulsive disorder is midway between the negative goal-orientatedness of anxiety and the positive goal-orientatedness of mania (euphoria). OCD occupies a continuum between fear that it won’t add up and the pleasurable expectation that it will

 

 

MANIA – Enjoying counting. Successful stock-taking: there is a glow of satisfaction or euphoria when we make stuff come out the way we want it to. We have achieved the goal, or so it seems, and reality matches the way we want it to be. The essential action is still comparing, but it is a happy, or even gloating, comparing; we are constantly checking up to make sure that the situation is what we think it is, not because we fear that it isn’t, but because we like the pleasure of finding out that it is

 

 

DEPRESSION – Counting, but out of a morbid fascination rather than a gloating fascination.  It all adds up to the worst possible news, no matter how we count it, but we go on counting and recounting anyway. Partly this is in the desperate hope that it will come out differently if we count it up one more time, partly we are morbidly transfixed by the horror of our situation. In anxiety we still think (at least, we act as if we think) that we can remedy matters so that the feared outcome doesn’t happen, in depression it has already happened and the motivation to struggle has virtually left us.  The essential reflexive act is to check up that the situation is what we think it is, and it inevitably is

 

 

Here, we can catch a glimpse of the ‘way out’ of depression – the way out is that there is no (logical, or ‘purposeful’) way out, and so when we thoroughly appreciate this we stop the reflexive action of checking up or counting. Thus, unmitigated rationality, which is the root cause of the four types of mental illness, is put back into its proper place – we can use it, but we can also drop it, we don’t have to base our whole lives on it. If we do base our whole lives on counting we become screwed up, because counting snarls things up – it prevents life turning about its irrational pivot. It is said in A.A. circles that ‘analysis is paralyses, and it could equally well be said that ‘measuring is madness’. Measuring everything gets us nowhere – instead of a refreshing cycle, life becomes a sterile routine, a dead-end. We never get past our own obsessive counting…

 

ACTUAL EQUALS EXPECTED

 

There is one more ingredient which we need to bring in here in order to make this model clear, and that is the notion of agreeing information – confirmation, in pragmatic information terms. Confirmation is when the world out there matches our conception of it: our expectations match the actual result, and thus our theory is validated.  When organizational closure is 100%, confirmation is 100%.  For mania, there is no difficulty in seeing how this theory fits in – in manic elation one’s model has become the world, it doesn’t just partially explain it, it totally explains it. Johannes Fabricius says that we identify ourselves with the world so much that that we think that we are the world, we lose the distinction altogether. Identification means that we never question the assumption that ‘the thought is the same as the thing’, and in mania (as in its reverse aspect of depression) the match between actual and expected is total.

 

 

But how does this apply to anxiety, where we see the possibility that the actual outcome will not be the same as our hopes (i.e. our preferred outcome). This looks like a mismatch, but it isn’t.  Getting a ‘NO’ answer confirms the validity of the question asked just as much as getting a ‘YES’ answer does. Missing the goal reinforces the idea that the goal is worth hitting just as much as getting a bulls-eye. This is how the noose of organizational closure tightens: positive goal-orientated action confirms the perspective used as much negative goal-orientated action; therefore, anxiety, which urges us to action (‘avoidance-type’ or ‘fixing-type’ action) forces us to work within our model even more than we did beforehand.

 

 

In the OCD region of the ‘neurosis continuum’ action is of course of prime importance, and whether we are operating with a negative or positive goal the point of our activity is to approach perfection in behavioural efficiency – we seek to maximize competency in the futile task that we have set ourselves. Being not quite perfect, but forever approaching it, obviously locks us in more and more into the game that we are playing, and this means that we exhibit a tendency to become ever more unthinking in our acceptance of the definition of ‘problem’ and ‘solution’ that we started out with. This is ‘optimization’ at its worst and most pernicious, and it is in essence the same thing as getting locked into a demanding computer game, and becoming so engrossed in the ‘how’ that we totally forget the ‘why,’ i.e. why are we playing it in the first place?

 

 

In depression action is no longer the thing, at least, active visible behaviour is no longer the thing. The essential cognitive action of reviewing one’s situation is still very much in evidence, however, and in depression we are, if anything, even more adapted to the given perspective – we automatically and flatly assume that our way of looking at the world is the right way, and, therefore, the only way.  Mobility within the multidimensional mind-space of ‘all possible perspectives’ is at a minimum.

 

YES = NO

 

We can now bring in the cybernetic paradox: When we identify completely with our conceptual mind, which is to say, when we are 100% adapted to the given perspective, then YES is seen as being absolutely different to NO. The polar opposites are taken as being independent entities, unconnected, belonging to two separate realities. The automatic consequence of seeing things in this way is that we think that we can manipulate any situation so that we can obtain a YES and exclude a NO, that we can have winning with no losing, pleasure without pain, living without dying. This is the rational view of things, and this is the view most of us subscribe to, without really questioning it. To see that YES isn’t NO is to be in one’s rational mind. All of the four ‘stations’ on our (neurotic) mental illness continuum arise due to maximized adaptation to a given structure-for-seeing-things, in all four there is minimum insight into the cybernetic paradox, which lies hidden in the heart of rational function. Insight means seeing that YES equals NO, and when one sees clearly that this is so, then there is no way on earth that one can be anxious, manic, compulsive or depressed. Seeing that YES equals NO means that there is organizational openness instead of closure, and therefore there are no more neurotic limits or compulsions.

 

CYBERNETIC FRENZY

 

Gregory Bateson, by all accounts, used to enjoy trying to explain to people that YES equals NO. One way that he had of getting the idea across was to talk in terms of thermostatic regulation: if the sensor detects that the room is too hot it turns off the heater, turning off the heater makes the room colder, and when the sensor notes this the logic of the system requires that the heater be switched on again. ON means OFF which means ON, and so on. Alan Watts points out that if the sensitivity of the self-regulatory system is set too high (which is to say, if the difference between the desired temperature and what is recognized as an ‘error’ becomes too small) then the system will get locked into a ON/OFF/ON/OFF frenzy, just like the computer in Star Trek did after being fed the paradoxical statement. Watts draws a comparison between this state of constant oscillation and the state of chronic indecision which afflicts us when we get too caught up in a choice that we have to make. The whole idea that there is a ‘choice’ to be made in the first place only ever arises because of agenda we are subscribing to in the first place – the importance of this ‘choice’ vanishes when we drop that agenda. Therefore, the horrible cybernetic snarl-up of not being able to make up my mind is a direct result of being totally identified with a particular model of reality. The cure is to get some perspective on the matter, to put some distance between my perception and my mind; in other words, what is needed is insight into the cybernetic paradox.

 

 

We can make an analogy here with bipolar affective disorder, and assert that the oscillation between euphoria and despair is due to the 100% identification with the mental representation of reality, as reality. Because of this 100% identification, all the emphasis is on Goal Orientated Activity. ‘Goals’ are mental projections, they are abstractions, and therefore when I am totally sold on my goal I am totally distracted from reality, the reality of uncertainty.  This is where my problems start, since I only believe in the eternally cycling YES and NO of my goal-orientated mind – I think that to have the goal is good, and that to not have the goal is bad, yet if ‘good’ (in the non-dual sense) is to be found anywhere, then it must be found in the unspecified and undescribed reality of the ‘here and now’ since this is the only place that genuine happiness, insight, and peace of mind can come from. This is the snag that trips us up: YES does not take ‘me’ into reality, and neither does NO; in other words, I cannot obtain the happiness and peace of mind which comes from being in the here and now by goal-orientated behaviour. Because this is such a fundamentally important point, and because it is also so powerfully counter-intuitive (i.e. contrary to common sense), we will go over it a couple times.

 

TRYING TO SEPARATE THE OPPOSITES

 

When I label something good and make a goal out of it, I separate the ‘good’ from reality; I isolate it, and in isolation it cannot be authentically good, because to be authentic it must be concrete and not abstract. Therefore, by seizing hold of the value that we perceive in the world, and describing it to ourselves, we poison the very thing that we love the most, and it is this mechanism which cyclically generates euphoria and despair. Because, in bipolar affective disorder, insight into the cybernetic paradox is at an all-time minimum, its actual operation in our lives is maximized, and it is in fact totally devastating. I make a goal, I say that such and such is absolutely GOOD and I proceed to enthuse endlessly about it; then, it all switches around and to my horror absolute GOOD becomes absolute BAD. I paint the room all white, and then it turns all black! The problem here is the little word ‘all’ – all makes the opposites cycle around each other, all means that we are trying to perform an impossible act, all shows that we really don’t have a clue about what we are doing because we want one opposite without the other.  The point that we need to understand (if we ever actually want to get anywhere) is that the opposites are forever inseparable because they represent the two extremes of the same evaluative scale.

 

 

YES and NO are reflections of a rule or criterion that I have applied to the world, and do not exist apart from my arbitrary standpoint. They belong to me, not to any independent reality. For example, if I ask a specific question, the answer will come back either YES or NO. The YES or NO only have meaning in relation to my question however, they certainly can’t mean anything outside of that particular context. Yet, when I am in the state of manic identification, what I am doing is losing sight of that all-important ‘relatedness’ – the relatedness between my question and the answer, or, rather, the relatedness between my evaluative criteria and how the thing that I am evaluating registers on that scale. In mania what happens is that I evaluate stuff very positively – basically, I think that I am great and that the world is great. However, in order to do this I need to get trapped in my evaluative framework, I have to lose sight of the fact that the greatness of it all is only great because of how I am choosing to see things.  Then, because my insight concerning the difference in kind between the map and the territory is at an all-time minimum, I naturally think that I can totally optimise my situation so that everything can be just the way I want it to be, so that all of it can be good. And of course, when I do this, the ‘good’ flips over into ‘bad’, and because I am trapped in my evaluative framework (my mind) I believe in the absolute nature of the badness just as much as I formerly believe in the absolute nature of the goodness. Thinking that everything is absolutely bad is the logical consequence of thinking that everything is absolutely good.

 

 

This is not of course to say that the world (or ‘nature’) is not essentially good, as we often intuit it to be, or that people are not intrinsically good. We will argue, however, that this intuitively perceived ‘goodness’ is of a non-referential kind, having nothing to do with our ideas about beauty and goodness. The natural world and its creatures may be said to possess an intrinsic value, a beauty that, as poets and artists have long understood, exists for no reason whatsoever. There is no need for a framework to make sense of it within; actually, we could say that the beauty lies precisely in the fact that it has nothing at all to do with our evaluative categories, our concepts and our beliefs – that is why it is so refreshing to us. The manic act of aggressively siezing this intrinsic value by naming it, labelling it, or evaluating it, is really a way of trying to prove something for certain, so that there can be no doubt about it. It is not enough to intuit the worth of life, I have to pin it down once and for all by rationally knowing it, by correlating incoming information with my mental categories. What I am essentially doing is establishing a relationship between my evaluative criteria and reality so that I can have an agreement between Actual and Expected. Losing the awareness of the relativity of all knowledge that is obtained via an evaluative framework merely means that I end up with a closed loop however, a tautology, a thing that proves itself to itself by reference to itself….

 

 

The principle that says two opposites will always oscillate around each other is of course fundamental in Taoism, where it is said that “defeat is born at the very moment of triumph,” but the rationalist / materialist megaculture which is now dominant on our planet is far too superficial to appreciate such an insight. If we could understand that ‘good’ and ‘bad’ are the two extremes of one and the same evaluative system, and not independently existing qualities of the world itself, then we would stand a chance of seeing our error. Our culture is itself a large-scale manifestation of this oscillation between public manic elation and private, unacknowledged despair; we arrogantly identify our thinking with the whole world, and we do this so unreservedly that we completely fail to see the difference, or discontinuity, between the two.

 

THE WAY OF ERROR

 

What we are talking about here is the phenomenon of ‘psychological inflation.’ This is usually understood in terms of the ego getting above itself and carelessly assuming that it has God-like importance; it can also be seen in a more general way as being what happens when we take our models beyond their limits of applicability. The ego is, after all, no more than a concept or model that has a certain degree of pragmatic usefulness.  Psychological inflation therefore means that we have taken it upon ourselves to assume responsibility for the whole of our psychic life, so that what we cannot rationally explain, we do not accept as existing at all. The penalty for this hubris is neurotic mental illness, particularly anxiety. This might be said to be the downside of the Age of Science. We might have freed ourselves from one type of superstition, but we have fallen prey to another: the superstition that we can know, and by knowing, control, the whole of reality, ourselves included. It is not too hard to see why this is bad news: A man who thinks he has to take responsibility for everything in order to be safe quickly finds out that his life has turned into a horror story – the more he gets sold on the idea that he has to control, the more terrible the proposition becomes that things will go wrong, and as his sense of responsibility expands to encompass ‘everything’ he is locked into a spiral of escalating control and escalating anxiety.

 

 

Anxiety, we can therefore say, originates in the unwise belief that I must control the ground of my being. I was doing just fine beforehand – if only I hadn’t got the cock-eyed idea that I had to take charge of the show myself, then I would still be okay! That is a bad road to travel down because it inevitably leads to disaster; the alchemists knew it as the ‘Way of Error’ – the mistaken and highly pernicious belief that I have to deliver myself by my own efforts. Ultimately I won’t be able to maintain control because the biscuit I have started eating is too big for me ever to finish, and so (just to mix metaphors a little) the train is going to have to come off the tracks. This is an ‘irresistible force and the immovable object’ scenario: it is inevitable that derailment occurs, but it is also infinitely important (to me) that it should not derail. This is anxiety in a nutshell. Of course, it is perfectly true that I never needed to control in the first place, but, once started, the sense of necessity builds up and up, like a runaway locomotive picking up speed. In one sense there is no problem with the train coming off the tracks because there never were any tracks in the first place, but on the other hand my belief in the tracks has become, at this stage, well nigh unshakeable. The disaster, although only in my mind, is a disaster nevertheless because I am totally identified with my mind. It is real to me. If only I could see the difference between my thoughts and the world, then I would be saved from the nightmare, but if I could see this difference then I wouldn’t have gone down that terrible path of error in the first place….

 

THE MANIC-DEPRESSIVE SOCIAL MIND

 

Strange as it may seem, it is perfectly legitimate to compare a manic individual with a manic culture. As Bohm observes, the system that is thought is the very same system whether we encounter it in the thinking of a man or woman, or in the organization of a rule-based assembly of many such men and women. If I am in the thrall of manic elation then this means that I think that I have finally hit the nail right on the head; my plan is working out perfectly, my vision of a rational (i.e. measurable) perfection is just about to be realized, that it is just about within my grasp. I can see what I want and I can see how to achieve it. I am also filled with god-like potency and energy – there is nothing I cannot accomplish! If you had a friend who went like this, you would soon understand that there was something going wrong somewhere. It doesn’t take a psychiatrist to see that. Yet when we are dealing with a culture that is manic, a culture that over-states its capabilities, nobody notices a thing. If you did say something then that would be a bit like being ‘unpatriotic’, people would look at you oddly.

 

 

A culture that is sold on control is a culture based on unreflective, gung-ho expansionism. There is a humourless enthusiasm at work there, the type of keenness that is deadly serious because it is blind to the possibility that it might be going in the wrong direction. The business that proliferates everywhere is the business of denial, the sort of business that Sogyal Rinpoche calls ‘active laziness’. Active laziness is theatrical because it isn’t about really getting somewhere, only about having the appearance of getting somewhere. We don’t look too deeply and so we can feel good and pat ourselves on the back. As has often been pointed out (by the economist Schumacher, for example) gung-go expansionism is unrealistic, just as the enthusiasm of mania is unrealistic, because it is unecological. All that enthusiasm is only possible because the problem (and therefore the solution) have been rendered conveniently black and white by our over-simplified way of looking at things. We don’t ever see the Big Picture because we only care about our narrow agenda, and this means that we ignore everything else, we trash everything else. We want progress at any cost, yet this dream can never ever succeed since every move we make causes a cascade of unexpected side effects which then have to be tackled as if they are independent, unrelated problems. The error is in us and everything we do just makes the mistake worse.  The only way in which we are successful is in repressing all other viewpoints on the matter, and in this we are generally very successful indeed.

 

THE LAW OF REVERSAL

 

It follows from this argument that if we want to know where exactly our culture is going, we could do no better than to see what happens in the life of an individual who has, in a sense, volunteered to manifest the cybernetic paradox on a personal level to demonstrate it to the rest of us. That is, we could do no better than to observe what happens to those who suffer from full blown bipolar affective disorder. This is true for all neurosis: those whose lives are brought to a standstill by neurotically self-frustrating worries are merely taking to a visible extreme those contradictions that exist unseen in the society they live in. Usually, the sacrifice is in vain because we do not want to see the lesson that lies in their suffering. It is natural enough that we cannot see it, since society, as we have said, is the very embodiment of the unconscious identification of the rational mind with its own ideas; neurosis cannot see what neurosis is, if it could it would not be neurosis!

 

 

Although our current level of psychological insight is abysmal, the necessary insight has existed in the past; in his book on alchemy and psychology, Johannes Fabricius declares that the art of alchemy, although widely derided by us for being laughably ‘wrong-headed’ and nonsensical, did in fact represent the highest point of Western psychological understanding. That was our finest moment, and we are now so incorrigibly bone-headed that we cannot even recognize that glory! Like a ridiculous, self-glorifying egotist, we think that we are the best there ever was, and it goes without saying that we will not listen to anyone who is eccentric enough to disagree with this basic premise. In the following passage Fabricius (1976, p 98) draws a connection between manic-depression and the Alchemists’ law of reversal, which he explains as follows:

 

At the peak of the Opus Alchymicum the glory of the coniunctio suddenly fades into darkness and despair. This development signifies the onset of a new stage of the work termed by the adepts nigredo (‘blackness’), tenebrositas (darkness’), or mortificatio. In the nigredo the alchemist becomes aware that the power he has gained is Janus-faced and that the stone is capable of exercising both a divine and demonic force. Superhuman in potency, the reborn alchemist sudenly topples from his throne, his universe turned upside-down in the process. Known to the Greeks as peripeteia, or ‘reversal of roles,’ this principle of irony and paradox is overwhelming in its operation in Hermetic science: that which has been worshipped as holy becomes in the twinkling of an eye a monstrous horror; the cup with the elixer of life turns into a deadly poison …

 

Fabricius speaks of a principle of irony and paradox: we may be able to see the irony to which he refers, but the alchemist being described cannot. This is the situation of the neurotic, that he cannot see the irony in the situation that he has created for himself. If I am 100% invested in Goal Orientated Activity, then there is no way that I can see my goal in an ironic way. Similarly, if I am acutely anxious, I cannot see any irony there, and if I am obsessive I am not going to say “Well isn’t it ironic that I am so wound up about something that doesn’t really matter a damn!”  Depression too is characterized by is ‘flatness’. Of course, we do ‘come to’ every now and again, and we get a little of our sense of humour back; this is when we de-identify a little, when we disengage from our projections and get back a bit of perspective on things. These moments happen in spite of our neurosis though, they are not an expression of it. Neurosis does not include humour – it excludes it.

 

THE NORMALLY INSANE MIND

 

We have looked at the role of ‘literal mindedness’ in neurotic states of mind such as anxiety, mania, OCD, and depression. We need to go further than this though, to properly make our point. The fact of the matter is that the same lack of irony permeates our normal ‘sane’ rationality – the everyday reasonable, common-sense mind is in itself totally devoid of any perspective on itself, it is utterly lacking in any insight into its own paradoxicality. The essence of the rational mind is to label, to measure, and to describe, and in this there is no irony whatsoever. I see an armchair and identify it as such: “There is an armchair,” I say to myself in a non-ironic fashion. I see someone I know sitting at the other end of the canteen:  “There’s Jim!” I say non-ironically.  Where I to have any sort of perspective on the operation of my rational, labelling mind, then it would all have happened completely differently. I would not have seen an armchair, but an ‘armchair’. I would not have noticed Jim sitting over there, but ‘Jim’.  This is precisely the point that James Carse (1986, p 102-3) is making in the following passage:

 

…We are speaking now of no ordinary ignorance. It is not what we could have known but do not; it is unintelligibility itself: that which no mind can ever comprehend.

 

Unveiled, aware of the insuperable limitation placed against all our looking, we come back to nature’s perfect silence. Now we can see that it is a silence so complete there is no way of knowing what it is silent about – if anything. What we learn from this silence is the unlikeness between nature and whatever we could think or say about it. But this silence has an irony of its own: Far from stupefying us, it provides an indispensable condition to the mind’s own originality. By confronting us with radical unlikeness, nature becomes the source of metaphor.

 

Metaphor is the joining of like to unlike such that one can never become the other. Metaphor requires an irreducibility, an imperturbable difference of its terms for one another. The falcon can be the “kingdom of daylight’s dauphin” only if the daylight could have no dauphin, could indeed have nothing to do with dauphins.

 

At its root all language has the character of metaphor, because no matter what it intends to be about it remains language, and remains absolutely unlike whatever it is about. This means that we can never have the falcon, only the word “falcon.” To say that we have the falcon, and not the “falcon,” is to presume again that we know precisely what it is we have, that we can see it in its entirety, and that we can speak as nature itself.

 

The unspeakability of nature is the very possibility of language.

 

Our attempt to take control of nature, to be Master Player in our opposition to it, is an attempt to rid ourselves of language. It is the refusal to accept nature as “nature.” It is to deafen ourselves to metaphor, and to make nature into something so familiar it is essentially an extension of our willing and speaking. What the hunter kills is not the deer, but the metaphor of the deer – the “deer.” Killing the deer is not an act against nature; it is an act against language. To kill is to impose a silence that remains a silence. It is the reduction of an unpredictable vitality to a predictable mass, the transformation of the remote into the familiar. It is to rid oneself of the need to attend to its otherness. 

 

It is one of the easiest things anyone can do to overlook the profound void between description and nature, yet this ‘gap’ makes all the difference in the world. It is the difference between simulation and reality, between being asleep and being awake, between insanity and sanity. It is because we do not see it, that we fall into rational madness.

 

SCHIZOPHRENIA

 

So far, so good, but we have only succeeded in being so tidy because we have left out the other, non-neurotic pole of mental illness, which is to say the schizophrenic-type conditions. How do we model schizophrenia within the complexity paradigm? The key is to see that if neuroticism is due to over-adaptation to a given positive reality, i.e. being in a state of stagnant equilibrium, then schizophrenic mental illness must be associated with being completely unadapted, being in the state of non-equilibrium. We can approach schizophrenia by thinking about anxiety. In anxiety, the fear is of getting a NO instead of a YES, of failing within the terms of the game that is being played. There is no question whatsoever of our model (or perspective) being undermined. In schizophrenia the fear (when there is fear, which is not all the time) is not of a mere ‘mistake within the system,’ but of finding out that the system is itself a mistake. [A clearer way to put this would be to say that the mistake is not the system itself, but, rather, the mistake is in identifying totally with this limited view of things. The system, after all, is true within its own terms of reference, the only problem being that it has no relationship with dynamic, or unlimited, reality.] If I, as a schizophrenia sufferer, am identified with my rational mind, then when this mind is overthrown, so is reality itself…

 

 

This fear, the fear of finding out that our reality is not real, gives rise to a sort of ‘super-anxiety’ – a higher order of anxiety altogether, an anxiety perhaps better referred to as existential terror or, as Ronnie Laing puts it, ontological panic. Although schizophrenia is characterized by high levels of what pragmatic information theory terms novelty (as opposed to confirmation), it seems fair to say that it is not the novelty itself that causes problems, but our reaction to it.  In other words, it is our desperate attempts to convert the novelty into confirmation that creates the distress, since such drastic measures are needed to secure our existential security that life itself becomes painfully distorted, or even petrified. Laing – who appeared to have had good insight with regard to the schizophrenic state – says that it is the radical defences that are instigated which do the real damage.

 

 

This truth of this assertion is hard to see, since it appears to us that it is the bizarre conceptualisations, and the corresponding odd behaviours, that creates the distress and confusion in schizophrenia, and not the sufferer’s attempt to be normal. As some have suggested, though, is it not the case that these bizarre interpretations of reality constitute the person’s attempt to understand, and thereby exert some degree of control, upon the experiences which are assailing him or her? Apart from terror and confusion, it is the case that the schizophrenic experience also contains the possibility of bliss and happiness, of joyful oceanic feelings and undivided peace of mind. These moments of remission from fear seem to be rare, and when they happen there are obviously no real grounds to classify the person concerned as being mentally ill, but we mention them in order to make the point that peace of mind and completeness occur when the essentially rational act of ‘checking up’ on oneself is not being performed. If I am existentially destabilized, so that I can perceive no rational foundations to my experience of myself in the world, then the automatic reaction on my part is to check up on myself in the futile attempt to answer the question “Am I really here at all?” or “Is there such a thing as a ‘me’ to be here?”  This, then, along with corresponding attempt to consolidate or solidify some sort of fixed reality, constitutes the essential ‘purposeful action’ behind schizophrenia. What is happening is that I am grabbing hold of one possibility out of a whirl of infinite possibilities, and locking into it so that it becomes a reality – paranoia is an excellent example of this sort of thing.  This is information processing with a powerfully distorting unconscious bias behind it.

 

 

One might wonder why one would want to crystallize or solidify a paranoid reality, given that paranoid realities are not generally very much fun, but the point is that it is our unthinking, unreflecting ‘passive identification’ with our conceptual projections that lies at the root of it all – it is not as if we see where instantaneous identification with our thoughts will take us, we just have such an enormous hunger for existential security, a hunger or craving that can only be fed by solidifying realities. After all, paranoia may be hell, but at least it’s something to hold onto! This statement may seem perverse, but as many sufferers from paranoia will testify, there is a perverse kind of enjoyment in being persecuted. If everyone is against me, and out to destroy me, then this by a sly backwards implication confirms the idea that there must be a ‘me’ in the first place – and it is the existential security of having a ‘me’ that I want, no matter what price that security comes with. In schizophrenia, therefore, our purposeful action is not carried out in order to secure ‘success’ within a particular frame of reference, but in order to have a frame of reference at all. Any frame of reference, we are not fussy…

 

WHY DON’T WE LIKE TYPE-2 EXPLANATIONS?

 

What we have here is the Type-2 mode of explanation in a nutshell. Once I have a clear understanding (which may or may not come easily) of the central notion of the ‘complex universe’ and the ‘hinge of uncertainty,’ then the continuum model of mental illness reveals itself surprisingly gracefully, surpassing in elegance the somewhat awkward and disparate Type-1 explanations. It deserves at least a look in, one would think. But, as we said earlier, this is one direction in which we are most definitely not looking, and this leads us to wonder what reason there may be for such a visible omission.  An answer does present itself, and it goes as follows.

 

 

Basically, the argument goes, we are not ‘free’ in our theorizing, free to follow the trail wherever it leads, free to look in all directions, free to investigate ourselves without prejudice as to what we might find out. Actually we have a secret agenda! Our agenda is that we have to validate the perspective which we are using to construct our questions – we are free to question this, or question that, but not free to question the assumptions upon which we base our line of enquiry.  On the face of it, ours is a noble search for an impartial and scientifically objective truth, underneath the surface, though, our real motivation is to preserve at all costs the idea that there actually is such a thing as an impartial and scientifically objective truth!

 

 

Our unacknowledged yet all-important need is the need for existential security: we require the security of a positive, definite reality that only rational thought can give us. We want to be safely limited by boundaries that are literally present in the real world, rather than by boundaries that exist only in our own thinking. We wish to have the solidity of our assumptions protected from the directionless vastness of infinite relativity, where anything could be true – even the possibility that nothing is true. The unreserved freedom of total conceptual instability (and cognitive redundancy) scares us as much as anything ever could scare us, and so we keep the lid on it. This is why we are so keen to identify with our models of reality, and so fearful of the thing itself. We just don’t have the necessary courage to live in a universe which we don’t understand (even though small children don’t seem to have much problem with this). We would rather wallpaper over the cracks in our shaky reality-accounting system, and live in a smaller, duller universe – the grubby little universe of our own thoughts.

 

THE MANY TRUTHS PARADIGM

 

It won’t do for me to get too carried away denouncing the planet-wide rationalist, materialist collusion. After all, if you suddenly took away my rational comfort zone, I would be just as much consumed by existential terror as the next person! The point is not that we should try to eliminate the psychological need for adaptation, but that we should respect and understand it. Once you become aware of this need as a need, then you have the possibility of seeing when it is useful to support the consolidation of ‘performance skills’ within the given structure, and when it is helpful for you to provide acknowledgment that there are other realities beyond the one which I know about. One approach is right at one time, the other right at another time. Our current approach fails because it is the same no matter what – if I am in distress the accepted wisdom is that I must be returned to normal functioning. But what if it is normality that I am suffering from? As the father of both the humanistic and transpersonal schools of psychology, Abraham Maslow, put it, “If the only tool you have is a hammer, then the whole world becomes a nail…”

 

 

Complexity means acknowledging that there are many levels of truth, and that none of them are ‘more true’ than the others. In other words, there is more than one truth, which means that truth is relative. The humdrum day-to-day reality that we perceive and interact with is only relatively true, and never absolutely true.  On the one hand this statement may be seen as threatening, or as being ludicrously nonsensical – everyday reality has a certain implacable brutality about it, after all. On the other hand, experience of the essential ‘relativity of all views’ is a matter of common experience to us all. Take, for example, the well known optical trickery of the vase that is also two faces (or the two faces that are also a face). In order to see the faces, we have to look at the diagram in a special way, we have to slant our information processing, we have to accentuate one aspect and play down another. This denies the reality of the vase. Equally, we can exclude the faces, and focus on the vase. Both are true, and yet, really, neither are true because if we look at the picture with no information processing at all, then there is just the whole, with no divisions, or partial pictures, being highlighted. To see the part, any part, we have to exclude the undivided whole, which is there right in front of our eyes all the time as the ‘unconditioned reality’.

 

 

Each partial view of the faces/vase picture corresponds to a rational interpretation, or ‘theory,’ of the world. Therefore, we can clearly see that all possible rational views must be biased, and so to take any such view as being objectively ‘true’ is to be psychologically unbalanced, and under pressure. Unrelativized rationality creates anxiety, in other words. As we said at the beginning of this introduction, we are not saying that thinking as such creates mental distress and mental illness, but that using the rational function without seeing the limitations of that function creates distress, pain and confusion. Once we are aware that all thinking requires a bias, then we do not need to be unconscious slaves to that bias.

 

THE RATIONAL APPROACH TO LIFE

 

Not all scientists are equally happy with the complexity paradigm. There is a conservative viewpoint which tends towards thinking that the universe can be accounted for by a unified rational statement. Einstein spent the last years of his life vainly searching for this holy grail. The idea is that everything can be reduced to one level of description, that we can find a primary basis upon which to explain phenomena. Matter will be found to consist of irreducible primary particles, and its behaviour will be found to conform to an all-explaining set of laws; we will boil everything down to the ultimate algorithm…

 

 

One can see the satisfaction that such a discovery would bring. Imagine being able to totally explain what life and the universe is all about:  “…and so you see, that’s how it is!”  This would be the ultimate dogma, the ultimate rock; men have itched for this down through the ages. We manage to be dismally dogmatic even without absolute truth in our possession, what would we be like if we had it nailed to the floor for everyone to see? No such satisfaction is available within the complexity paradigm. No level of description is King, and therefore there is no ultimate explanation. There is no answer! Trying to explain one’s own ontological basis is revealed as an absurdity, a joke – like a puppy chasing its own tail.

 

 

Tackling life by logic and rationality misses the whole point of it – the point being that there is no point. This truth is abundantly obvious to artists and mystics, yet utterly obscure to technologists and theorists. One only needs to consider the matter, however. I can plan for this, that and the other, get everything running to order, just the way I want it, but then what have I got? Not life, that’s for sure. Life has gone – sterile neurosis has taken its place. The same is true for psychology: I can measure this, predict that, and collect stats on the other – but what do I get at the end? Not a person. I have concentrated so much on pinning down the superficial, quantitative data that I have missed the most important part. The vital ingredient. And if you point this out to me, and I still don’t know what you are talking, then that is because I am totally in my rational mind – I am so smart that I’m stupid. And that is not at all an unusual way to be.  There is absolutely no way to ‘catch’ the whole thing by rule-based procedures. Mathematically, this is impossible, as Godel’s Incompleteness Theorem shows. Physically, it’s also impossible, as we can see by quantum theory, chaos theory, and complexity theory. Most importantly, it is impossible in our day-to-day lives, as shown by actual living experience!

 

THE TWIN DEMONS

 

As we have just said, there is a lack of scientific consensus on just how far we are to take the new ‘paradigm of uncertainty’ – we are unsure about how uncertain things really are. Some say that things are basically certain, and that the irreducible uncertainty in the universe is actually trivial, whilst others suggest that the state of affairs is the other way around, that it is certainty which is trivial, or superficial. We are not going to worry about this debate. Rather than resting our argument on theory, or on research, which is where we tend to expect new ideas to come from, we are going to look somewhere completely different. The temples of knowledge and learning, where all the spotlights are, will reveal nothing new. It is the same old story, the experts say whatever it is we want them to say – that’s why we give them their glorified status after all. We wouldn’t put them on a pedestal if they told us stuff that we didn’t want to hear.  Our central argument is that taking an exclusively rational approach to life is a disaster – we wish to make life better, but end up being participants in a gigantic folly that none of us dare admit to. The evidence for this view comes not from the mouth’s of society’s spokespeople, the successful and the admired and the honoured, but from the dark underbelly of society, the place where we don’t want to look. Failure teaches – so-called ‘success’ does not. Where our society and our collective value-system really fails is when it comes to looking those manifestations of human unhappiness which give every indication of being immune to our technologies – in mental illness, in other words.

 

 

The term ‘mental illness’ is itself an indication of how we shirk the issue – we act as if  problems of the mind are analogous to a broken leg or appendicitis, and go about trying to solve them in the same blunt manner. We want to be clever and in control, and we don’t want to hear that it is our insecure craving to be clever and in control that creates the problems we want to be clever and controlling about. The knowledge that this is a wrong path was known in the west over a thousand years ago – as we have said, the alchemical scientists of a previous era knew it as the Way of Error. In our rush to be clever, our entire global civilization is heading off down the Way of Error just as fast as ever we can! This is not to say that there is anything wrong with being able to manipulate our environment in an efficient way, merely that there is something wrong with seeking to find ultimate satisfaction and meaning in this efficient manipulation.

 

 

The supreme uselessness (or sterility) of the ‘cleverness’ approach can plainly be seen when it is confronted with profound human suffering. What do we do? We run a mile. We erect a ring of steel around them. We categorize them. We run assessments on them. We professionally distance ourselves from the sufferer, we apply techniques and procedures; we subject them to high-powered, impressive-sounding but ultimately meaningless jargon. All of this is not just useless – it is actively malign because it perpetuates the evil that lies at the root of suffering. If I am experiencing profound suffering then what I need is to meet another human being – not a professionally withdrawn robot. What helps is to find someone who is not afraid to be a witness to my pain, hard though this may be. One genuine bone fide human being is worth more than a whole army of experts; a single ounce of unguarded sincerity is worth more than all the cleverness in the world. There is no way to rationally and antiseptically ‘therapize’ neurotic suffering because it was an excess of rationality that created that suffering in the first place.

 

 

In order to learn about the dark side of rationality, we don’t need to listen to yet more rationality, yet more technical bullshit, we just need to be with people who are suffering from neurosis.  We need to appreciate on a gut level the connection between the overvalued rational mind and the curse of neurotic suffering. We need to truly learn the lesson that is in this suffering.

 

 

 

 

Out of the obstinate ‘ignore-ance’ of rationality spring the twin demons of anxiety and depression, along with all their kindred demons – anorexia, the phobias, obsessive-compulsive disorder and a host of less well-known conditions. The more we exalt reason in public, in our ‘safe’ consensus reality, the more we are ravaged by these demons in private.

 

 

 

 



Author: Nick Williams

Nick Williams works and writes in the field of mental health and is particularly interested in non-equilibrium states of consciousness, which are states of mind that cannot be validated by standardized experiments or by reference to any formal theoretical perspective.

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