We all want to make sense of the world, in whatever way we can. We all do make sense of the world one way or another – this is evidently true since we all have thoughts, we all have ideas, we all have beliefs. Making sense of the world is the thing to do – it’s as if the universe is some kind of giant riddle or puzzle that we have to figure out. What’s the answer, we wonder? What’s it all mean? What’s the key to understanding it? What’s the correct angle? What’s the formula?
When the world does make sense (to whatever degree) then there is a metaphorical ‘click’ as everything falls into place. If the understanding is big enough then there is an electric jolt of excitement, a thrill, a frisson – a cartoon-style light bulb gets turned on in our heads. We ‘get it’! Then, following this decisive moment, the chances are that there will be some kind of galvanizing effect of us in terms of our future behaviour, our future activity, our future thinking. We will be shunted down a particular road, in other words – we will have been given a direction to go in as a result of our new understanding so now we can’t wait to ‘join up the dots’, we can’t wait to ‘fill in the blanks’. We can’t wait to do whatever it is that is necessary in order to ‘carry out the plan’, so to speak. We can’t wait to run off and tell someone else about it, whether they want to hear it or not…
But this is all very mechanical. It’s like a device that has just been programmed, and which is now primed to put its algorithm into operation. Once the ‘understanding’ has been obtained then everything else follows automatically, deterministically, as a completely unsurprising consequence. There’s nothing particularly exciting about this process at all – these ‘understandings’ are a dime a dozen and none of them come down to anything exceptional. One type of mechanical understanding is as good as any other when it comes to it – they all come down to the rational mind doing its thing. Whatever the apparatus of the mechanical mind tells us is true, then that’s our so-called ‘understanding’! The mechanical mind tells us that something is true and then we straightaway get all excited about what it tells us, no matter what it tells us. But whatever the story, it’s still only ever just that same old mind rattling through its limited possibilities.
This is pretty obvious really – no matter what sense the world makes to me, it’s still the same old mind that is providing me with this feeling that I now understand something. The same old mind is behind it and so really the kind of sense that the world is making to me is just ‘the kind of sense that makes sense to the rational mind’. It’s just another belief-system, it’s just another theory, it’s just another model, it’s just another schema. It’s just another ‘mind-produced pattern’, different in detail but never any more than a rejigged, revamped version of the same old thing.
We very rarely see just how much of a tremendous limitation this is – the suggestion that concepts or categories created by the rational mind are only ever ‘trivially different’ is not one that we tend to appreciate. The suggestion that all of the various supposedly diverse mental objects that make up our conceptual universe are really just ‘the same old thing’ (and that this ‘same old thing’ is the rational mind) is not something that makes much sense to us. In fact saying that ‘we don’t tend to appreciate it’ or that ‘it doesn’t make sense to us’ is rather an understatement – we are as far from appreciating this truth as we ever could be, and it is our very profound lack of appreciation of the banal homogeneity of all of our apparently diverse mental constructs which makes our world opaque in nature rather than transparent.
It is a curious thing that suddenly attaining a rational understanding of some sort subjectively makes us feel as if we have found some kind of elevated vantage point (like a stool or a step-ladder) to stand up on and survey the world from, when in reality the exact converse of this has just happened. We haven’t found a stool or step-ladder to climb up on – we’ve fallen down a hole! We haven’t gained perspective, we’ve catastrophically lost it and it is our catastrophic loss of perspective that makes us think that being stuck at the bottom of a hole is somehow a marvellously positive move. It is our catastrophic loss of perspective that makes us think that the knowledge we have now gained as a result of falling down a hole is something we should immediately rush to share with other people, something that we should perhaps write a book about or talk about on a TV chat show…
When we ‘make sense of the world’ what happens is that there is a cataclysmic loss of information going on. The entropy content of the system has just gone up to the roof, but we know nothing of this since entropy equals ‘information loss of which we are unaware’. All I know is that some idea, some thought, some theory or doctrine suddenly seems ‘right’ to me. As soon as this happens and I lock onto the ‘correct’ way to look at the world then of course there is going to be an enormous loss of information – I have just tuned out of everything else in the universe. I have just tuned into the ‘figure’ and forgotten the ‘ground’. I have found the ‘signal’ and so this supposedly fortuitous discovery necessarily converts everything else that I come across into mere ‘noise’…
Finding the ‘signal’ turns everything else into ‘noise’ but signal however only exists in relation to a particular set of evaluative criteria, in relation to a particular angle, a particular viewpoint or fixed position on things. It is as if I ask a question and the particular wording of that question determines the answer I get back. So I unwittingly control the answer I receive to my question via the emphasis or nuances I have (perhaps unconsciously) put into it. Because I don’t realize that my question is determining the answer I get back, I credit this answer with being a good deal more meaningful than it is. If on the other hand I see that the answer is only my own question reflected back at me then I realize that what is going on here isn’t meaningful at all!
I see ‘signal’ as being so very important, so very significant, so very meaningful, etc, and yet it isn’t at all. It’s nothing. It’s no discovery at all. It’s only my own ideas, my own mental categories, being reflected back at me. It’s only my own mind being reflected back at me and so what’s so great about this? The world makes ‘sense’ to me – big deal! All this means is that I am too lazy, too inert, too lacking in integrity to look beyond the obvious and ‘the obvious’ is the operation of my own mind which is acting in the same old way it always does even though I cannot see it doing this. ‘The obvious’ is the ubiquitous activity of my own rational mind whose productions and creations appear as surprises to me, despite the fact that it is I myself who am behind them…
The impression is that when there is this moment in which ‘everything suddenly falls into place’ (and I gain some kind of rational understanding) then I have expanded my mental horizons. The impression is that I have made a conceptual leap so that I have now learned something that I didn’t know before. This however is just not the case – I’ve lost perspective not gained it. I feel that my world has now got bigger because it includes an understanding that I didn’t have before – and yet in reality nothing new has come into the picture. Stuff has been lost not found. All that has happened is that I have detected something in the world that I myself have just put into it. I have encountered my own projections, that’s all. It’s as if run out of the house into the garden, place some artefact there, and then immediately afterwards run out into the garden a second time, pick up the thing (whatever it is) and make out that I have discovered something! I make out that finding the artefact is some kind of a big surprise, some kind of a big event!
We can use this notion of ‘false surprise’ as a way of explaining what it means to be ‘psychologically unconsciousness’ – we can say that I become unconscious the moment I fail to recognize my own projections as my own projections, that I become unconscious ‘the moment I stumble over one of my own ubiquitous projections and loudly declare it to be an important new discovery’. Once this happens then I’m lost because I am now in a position to be equally fooled by any of my projections; I am therefore from this point on going to be the ‘helpless prey’ of my own projections, the ‘unwitting victim’ of my own unowned (or unrecognized) mechanism of self-deception. I’ve entered into the realm of self-deception without realizing that I have ever departed from reality.
We could also say that the moment I start treating my own projections as if they were not my own projections then it’s as if I have walked into an unlit room and the door has slammed shut behind me. ‘Light’ – in this analogy – would be genuine information, which is to say, information that tells me about a world that is not my own reflection, a world that is not my own mental construct. When I tune into a world that is my own construct and behave as if it were independent of me, then this necessarily shuts out anything else. But the key point here is that I don’t know that I have shut anything out (or that I am shutting anything out) and so although the room that I am confined in is dark, I don’t see this darkness…
Darkness, in this analogy, means lack of information (or ‘redundancy’). If I could see the darkness to be darkness, the redundancy to be redundancy, then this would be the same as ‘spotting a projection to be a projection’, but this is of course very far from being the case. Quite the opposite is true: I see darkness as light, I take redundancy to be actual information. This therefore gives rise to a very peculiar situation – the situation in which the darkness around us is not visible as such, the situation in which the absence of light goes wholly unnoticed since we mistake the darkness that surrounds us for light. This is the shadow-realm of psychological unconsciousness, which is where we perceive the occlusion of light to be ‘an actual thing in itself’, which is where we perceive the occlusion of consciousness to be ‘an actual value in itself’.
It is perfectly possible for us to create ‘something out of nothing’ in this way (by adopting the convention that shadows are real things in themselves, as in Plato’s ‘Analogy of the Cave’) but only at the price of bringing into existence an endless series of what we might call ‘self-cancelling situations’. The unconscious realm is thus a null domain, a domain within which events seem to happen only to be perfectly erased again a bit later on! It happens, then it unhappens. It ticks the box, then it unticks the box. It is, but then shortly afterwards it isn’t, because one opposite always follows the other, like the alternating faces of a coin spinning on its edge. It bounces in a positive direction, and then the next thing is that it bounces back just as vigorously in a negative direction, because that’s what vibrations do! I win, and the next thing is that I lose, because winning only makes sense in relation to losing and losing only makes sense in relation to winning…
This is of course going to be true for all mutually-defining opposites – there’s no way it can’t be true. I score a PLUS, then later on I score a MINUS (because after scoring a PLUS there’s nothing left for me to do but score a MINUS) and so the net result of this operation is nothing at all. It’s a ‘null operation’. In his Schrödinger’s Cat trilogy Robert Anton Wilson draws attention to the significance of Spencer Brown’s axiom (from The Laws of Form): ‘To cross again is not to cross”. If movement is measured by the fact that a boundary has been crossed (as indeed it has been) then the hidden problem with this (if we may call it a problem) is that all boundaries work two ways. They define one way, but they also define the other way too, and so the net result of this is a null action. A boundary is quintessentially paradoxical, but somehow we always fail to see this…
I cross the boundary one way and it’s a YES, I cross the other way and it’s a NO, and what this shows is that both YES and NO equal ‘the boundary’. Both YES and NO equal the boundary because a boundary is – by its very nature – a ‘YES/NO’ (or an ‘INSIDE/OUTSIDE’). But to see that a boundary is a concatenation of YES and NO (with nothing in-between) is also to see that it’s an abstraction or ‘formal construct’. It is in other words an unreal thing, a made-up kind of a thing that only exists in our thoughts! The very fact that a boundary is always self-contradicting (or paradoxical) in this way (since it is equally made up of YES and NO) demonstrates very clearly that it is an unreal thing, and if it is an unreal thing, then obviously any changes that are measured in relation to it must be null changes. A logical system (any logical system) is always going to be a nullity.
All changes that are determined in relation to a fixed frame of reference are null or self-cancelling. There is no way that this can’t be the case, given that all fixed frames of reference are ‘arbitrarily assumed’. Any change that is measured within the framework has a meaning that is ‘real only in relation to this framework’ (very obviously!) and this is simply another way of saying that this measured change is real only insofar as the assumed framework is real. But the whole point is that the assumed framework isn’t real – it’s only an exercise in ‘let’s pretend’, it’s only a game we’re playing, and so any statements that we make in relation to a fixed frame of reference are necessarily going to be ‘null statements’.
This is such a simple point to understand but – simple or not – we just don’t get it. This awareness is ‘off limits’ – it is an insight that we are stubbornly determined to stay away from. The insight that ‘the only events taking place within the fixed framework of the rational mind are null events’ constitutes our necessary blind-spot, it constitutes a thing that we can’t afford to be aware off if we want to carry on with the game that these events aren’t null. The whole point of the game is after all to carry on as if the events that take place within it aren’t null! What we don’t want to see therefore is this:
Everything which goes on within the continuum of logic (i.e. within the remit of the rational mind) is only ever going to be meaningful within the strictly provisional terms of that ‘rational continuum’ and that these terms only exist because we say that they do.
All models, all theories, all descriptions only ever make sense within ‘the framework’, only ever make sense within the continuum of logic, only ever make sense within the realm of rationality, and this framework, this logical continuum, this rational realm is only ever a game that we decide to play. It’s a null situation that we tacitly agree to treat as if it were not null.
Everything that happens within this realm can only ever be – at best – ‘stuff that makes sense within the assumed framework’. Everything we establish as being true or valid is only ‘true’ or ‘valid’ within the assumed framework. Never does anything happen in the rational realm that is not self-cancelling, not under any circumstances. Never does anything happen in the realm of mechanical meaning that is not ultimately null. Never is there any statement made in the realm of mechanical meaning that is not ultimately null. Never is there any ‘truth’ or ‘validity’ established in the realm of mechanical meaning that is not ultimately null. It’s just that we simply can’t afford to see this if we want to carry on playing the game…
So the world that makes sense in relation to the fixed framework of the rational mind is a null world. The realm of mechanical meaning (which is the realm in which there is only ever YES or NO, WIN or LOSE, RIGHT or WRONG, and where ‘the one opposite is always infallibly cancelled out by the other a bit later on’) is a null world. The black and white domain of ‘categorical certainty’ is a null world. This is the point we find so very hard (if not flatly impossible) to understand – we don’t want to understand because if we did understand it then the mind-created world which we place such great stock in would be impossible to live in. It would be revealed for what it is – which is infinitely sterile.
Self-cancelling worlds are by definition infinitely sterile, but – as we have said – this is a prohibited insight. The awareness is alien to us. Instead, we obstinately treat the opposites as being unconnected so that we can get ‘one but not the other’. As long as we think this, as long as we think that we stand to gain something with our goal-orientated activities then we’ll stick at it – we’ll stick around for another hand to be dealt out since we have always got this feeling that – this time – things are actually going to work out for us. Hope springs eternal, as they say, and we eternally hope that sooner or later we’re going to come away with a net profit!
There are profits to be made in the realm of mechanical meaning, but the profits are only Short-Term (or ‘virtual’). The prize we are chasing is actually two-dimensional and so as soon as we get our hands on it it switches around and becomes its own opposite! Or to put this another way:
Any profits that are to be made can only EVER be made on the Short Term, and so just as long as we’re living exclusively ‘on the Short Term’ things can carry on seeming hopeful!
We can look at this essential +/- ‘vibration’ in psychological terms in terms of pleasure and pain, satisfaction and dissatisfaction. When I react to my own projections as if they have an actual independent reality then – in the short term – it is as if I have attained something. This, we might say, is the positive phase of self-deception, the positive phase of illusion, the ‘euphoria-producing’ phase. As soon as I ‘seize hold’ of this theatrical victory however and allow myself to feel the intense feeling of satisfaction that comes when I allow myself to believe that I have achieved something (which is the euphoria) then I have by this very act of ‘staking my claim’ on what I think I have obtained created the antithetical ‘dysphoria-producing’ situation. The antithetical (or dysphoria-producing) situation is – needless to say – the situation in which what I think I have obtained (and therefore have proud ownership of) is unceremoniously prized from my grasp and taken away from me again…
We can also explain this two-step mechanical process in terms of what happens when I assert something to be unquestionably true. The moment I allow myself to feel that the statement which I have made is definitely true, then I get to experience the euphoria that comes about as a result of this belief. But by making a big issue of matters in this way I have also created the possibility that my assertion is NOT true, since I cannot assert a positive without suggesting at the same time the corresponding negative. As we have said, positive and negative are mutually-defining opposites, which is to say –
‘Positive’ needs for there to be a ‘negative’ in order for it to exist, just as ‘negative’ needs for there to be a ‘positive’ in order for it to exist.
So by making a big deal out of one possibility I unwittingly make an equally big deal about the other, complementary possibility!
The more enthusiastically and emphatically I assert that <Statement A IS true> therefore, the more objectionable, the more repellent, the more repugnant will be the possibility that it ISN’T. Or to put this another way, the more triumphant I feel when I believe myself to have genuinely attained something, the more despairing I will be when what I think I have gained is taken away from me again. The sweeter the victory, the more bitter the defeat. The more absolutely important I say it is that such-and-such and assertion should be unquestionably true, the more terrifying the antithetical proposition becomes…
The trouble is that both thesis and antithesis are the very same thing, which means that the more I insist on the one I like, the more I get the one I don’t like. And boy do I insist hard – I insist as hard as I possibly can do!
I think that the answer to everything lies in insisting as hard as I can. I think that this is the way to go. I think that insisting is the same thing as strength – I think that insisting as strongly and persistently as I can will one day allow me to ‘win out’… In short, I think that there is a genuine gap between whatever it is that I am insisting on so hard, and the unwanted side-effect of that insistence, which keeps coming back to rebound painfully in my face. I think that there is a healthy gap between what I am so very attracted to and what I am so very averse to, and the frighteningly pernicious illusion that there is this gap is the very source of all my suffering.
Both what I am attracted to and what I am averse to are after all my own projections and so of course there is no space between them! The projections that I am attracted to are me and the projections that I am repelled by are also me – it’s all me, which is just another way of saying that there is no space, no gap in the situation at all.
Pleasure is the same as pain, triumph is the same as despair and all of this just equals ‘the abstract (or game-playing) self’.
But if we want to carry on playing the game of the abstract (or unreal) self – which we most definitely do – then we just can’t allow ourselves to see this…
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.