Flatland is where we run to when we’re trying to run away from space. Flatland is obviously an escape from space – it’s obviously an escape from space because there’s no space in it. ‘Flat’ means no space. Because there is no space at all in flatland – not even the tiniest whisper of it – the escape is perfect. This is the perfect solution, therefore. Or at least it would be perfect if it were not for one thing – there is no such thing as flatland!
This is – needless to say – more than just a little bit of a ‘set-back’ on our quest for an escape from space – it absolutely ruins the whole plan, naturally. It jinxes everything. It ruins the whole plan but oddly enough, we just can’t see this. We can’t see the problem. We can’t see the problem because in order to be aware that flatland is fatally flawed as an escape from space we would have to have a bit of perspective available to us and the snag here is that there is no perspective in it. At the same time that flatland lacks any vestige of space it also lacks any vestige of perspective – ‘space’ and ‘perspective’ being one and the same thing!
The fact that we don’t have the perspective to see that flatland is a jinxed or flawed escape from space makes it into a particularly nasty type of trap – the very nastiest trap there is, in fact, so as well as being a fundamentally flawed escape flatland is also somewhere that we can’t ever bail out of. It’s a jinxed dead-end that we can’t see to be a jinxed dead-end, so to speak. Having made this point, there does seem to be a kind of a ‘basic fallacy’ in our argument however, a fallacy that does rather tend to stand out. The fallacy is that we have just said that ‘there is no such thing as flatland’ and if there isn’t such a thing then how can it be the case that we are trapped in it? If there’s no such thing, no such place, then what’s to stop us walking away from it? What’s keeping us prisoners in flatland if flatland doesn’t exist?
It’s not as simple as this, however. It’s far from being as simple as this! The point is that we don’t know that there is no such place, no such set-up as flatland. To us, it is very real indeed (even if we don’t actually see what we’re stuck in as ‘flatland’, or even see that we are stuck, for that matter) Our awareness is very effectively restricted to this two-dimensional domain and the question of whether it is real or not doesn’t come into it. It’s a prison of the mind. The actual domain that we’re talking about might not be real, but the restriction associated with it – on one level anyway – is.
This isn’t such a peculiar idea as all that when it comes down to it – what we are essentially saying here is that we are playing a game. A game isn’t real, but we act (and think) as if it were. That is after all the whole point of a game – that it shall seem subjectively real to us, that we should adapt ourselves unquestioningly to it. If we were playing a game and we knew perfectly well the whole time that it was a game then this would spoil the whole thing. In the game which is flatland there is no perspective and this is why  we can’t see that the domain is unreal, and  we can’t help believing in it and end up as a result getting very effectively trapped in it.
Going back a bit to the beginning of this discussion, we might want to know why it is that we are so keen on escaping from space since this is – as we have said – the reason why we took up residence in the jinxed domain of flatland in the first place. Why do we want to run away from spaciousness? This would seem to be a rather pertinent question. The best answer we can give (and it doesn’t at first seem very satisfactory) is this – When we start running away from space in the first place (i.e. when we start contracting, as Tony Parsons says) then space ceases to be a wonderful thing and instead becomes an absolute terror to us. When we start running then we have to carry on, in other words.
Why this switch-over from wonder to terror should occur isn’t too hard to understand. We can say that it happens because in fleeing we have adopted a ‘back-to-front viewpoint’. At that precise point at which we ‘turn our backs on space’ and start fleeing it everything flips over, everything reverses and we start to see life in what we might call an inverted fashion – the unreal becomes real and the real becomes something we don’t want to know about! We’re contracting which means that the only thing we care about is down-sizing…
The inversion is therefore that the unreal becomes real and the real becomes (to us!) unreal. Reality is (of course) just as real as it ever was but it is no longer something that we can perceive any more. We can no longer relate to reality (or space) in a direct way – the only way we have of relating to reality is by not relating to it, by denying it, in other words. This may not seem like a relationship but it is – it is an inverted relationship. We are relating by not relating. We are relating by virtue of the fact that we are deliberately turning our backs…
When we are in a state of psychological denial then the rigid posture of denial defines everything about us without us being able to see that there is a rigid posture, that there is a system of denial. Not relating to reality restricts us absolutely, in other words; it restricts us without us being able to see that we are restricted. We end up in a restricted domain without being able to see that we are – to us the way we are is just ‘normal’, there doesn’t necessarily seem to be anything restricted about it at all. It’s our world and a world is a world whether it is lacking in freedom or not. A world is everything we can possibly relate to and we can’t look beyond it, nor know that there is anything beyond it.
This might seem like a rather tall order – that we should be absolutely restricted and at the same time have absolutely no awareness that we are, that we should have zero freedom and yet not know that we have zero freedom. We might wonder how this could ever get to be the case – how zero freedom could get to seem like freedom. The way that this takes place is however simplicity itself. It is a kind of a ‘trick’ or ‘gimmick’, the trick being that we take the restriction absolutely for granted (so that we never ever look at it) and then base everything we do and think on this unquestionable and therefore invisible basis…
We do this all the time and never reflect on the fact that we are doing it. We do it all the time but we never see ourselves doing it. The invisible restriction that we base everything on (and relate everything to) is ‘the framework of thought’ – it is the rational mind, in other words. The rational mind is flatland! Or looking at this another way, we could alternatively say that the profoundly unconscious assumption that we base all our thoughts and actions on, which we automatically relate everything to without seeing that we are doing so, is the everyday self. The everyday self is also flatland.
The thing about the everyday self (and this is quite impossible to see from the basis of that self) is that it can only ever appear to be there in the solid and reliable way that it does seem to be there when we are running away from space, when we have turned our back on reality. To put this another way – we have to perceive everything in an inverted way if we are to experience ourselves as being this self. The inversion and the self are inseparable, are two ways of talking about the same thing. This is of course the point that we were making earlier – that once we start running away from space (i.e. once we have identified with the abstract POV of the self) then we are obliged to carry on running. We’re tied into it from this point on – it’s a one-way street and all we can do is follow that street to where it leads. We have no freedom to do otherwise, and no freedom to see that we have no freedom to do otherwise. If we want to maintain and consolidate the illusion of the everyday self (if we want to carry on not seeing the self as an illusion) then we have to keep on running away from space, running away from reality.
A better way of putting this is simply to say that the everyday self is a running away from space, or that the everyday self is a ‘turning away from reality’. The self is our escape capsule! The ‘turning away from reality’ is the inversion that we have been talking about – the inversion is simply what happens when we assume some position as being THE ONLY POSSIBLE position, so that we never have to look at it again, nor ever have to trouble ourselves to wonder why we chose it, or what is so special about it. By this manoeuvre (the manoeuvre of ‘identification’)we have turned our backs on reality. We’ve taken a rigid stance which we are not ever going to see as ‘a rigid or limited stance’, a stance that determines our perception of what is real and what is not real, what is important and what is not important. We’re only ever looking outwards (on this arbitrarily chosen basis), we’re never looking inwards, and this is the way it is with the everyday self. What the self is interested in is only ever ‘what it can do on the basis that it takes for granted’. Or to put this another way, the self is only ever interested in stuff that has a bearing on it.
The more determinedly and unreflectively we act from this rigid basis the more we secure it, the more we consolidate and strengthen it. Acting determinedly and unreflectively from the assumed basis equals ‘running away from reality’ or ‘running away from space’. Equally, we can say that this ‘acting unreflectively from an assumed basis’, this ‘referencing of everything to the unquestioned viewpoint or framework’, is the concrete sense of being a self. That’s what ‘being a concrete self’ is all about. That’s all there is to the self – there’s nothing more to it than this manoeuvre, this inversion. We live ‘inside the box’ and we haven’t any perception that this is the case because we never look at the box. We only look at what the conditioning of the box makes us look at. We assume the box as ‘a given’ and are therefore constitutionally incapable of seeing it – the self is a closed system, in other words. We act on this basis and our only mode of operation is to look out at the world from it to see what opportunities that world might offer us from the POV of our closed agenda. We look out but we don’t look in. This is what it means to be ‘unconscious’. As Jung says,
Your vision will become clear only when you can look into your own heart. Who looks outside, dreams; who looks inside, awakes.
The thing about running away from space is of course that we can’t do it. Space is everywhere. All there is is space. How then can we run away from it? The only way we can do this is to run in the direction of unreality – the only way to run away from space is to ‘close down’ and invent our own private universe, the universe of the rational mind, the universe of the self, the unreal universe which we have called ‘flatland’…
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.