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The Concept of Psychological Entropy

INTRODUCTION

 

Entropy is not an idea that finds much, if any, acceptance within the field of psychology, although most of us would agree that it has a certain intuitive appeal. Of course, there have been exceptions to this rule: Carl Jung was happy enough to think within a broad framework of ‘psychological thermodynamics’ and made the attempt to define stable personality traits (and the processes that build and overthrow them) in terms of an lin psychological entropy. Commenting upon this part of Jung’s work, Fritjof Capra (1982) comments that the only reason his schemata of psychological energetics comes across as somewhat unsatisfactory and unwieldy is because Jung, writing in the first half of the twentieth century, had no recourse to non-equilibrium thermodynamics, and had to apply classical thermodynamic theory to the dynamic, self-organizing system of the psyche, which it is not able to model. He did the best he could, Capra argues, with the limited understanding that was available.

 

 

More recently, psychiatrist / psychotherapist M. Scott Peck has made use of entropy as a key principle, linking it with unconsciousness, or ‘laziness’, which he explains as ‘avoidance of work’, where work is defined in a technical way as ‘learning stuff anew without the help of established guidelines’.  We can equate this idea (which makes better and better sense, the more you think about it) with Abraham Maslow’s assertion that neurosis is, at root, the rejection of novelty, i.e. the unknown. This would mean that ‘laziness’ (in Scott Peck’s particular usage of the word) corresponds to neurosis, or ‘sticking to the known,’ which is an idea that we will discuss in more detail as we go along. Within the mainstream of contemporary psychological thinking, however, there is no place for concepts such as mental entropy (it is quite out of fashion) and as a result we are in the curious position of trying to describe mental functioning without admitting the existence of any law of energetics.  Rather than looking into the possibility that the psychic domain may be subject to universal laws in the same way that the physical domain is subject to, say, the law of gravitation, it seems that we want to see everything that goes on in the mind as being due to conditioned laws only. Conditioned laws are rules that are arbitrarily set up, much like the law that prohibits driving a car when under the influence of alcohol; they include behavioural drives on the one hand, such as hunger, sex and aggression, and the adaptive pressure to problem-solve on the other hand, which is to say, the pressure to learn efficient ways of interacting with our environment so that we can survive and reproduce as successfully as possible within it. Both biological drives and ‘environmental selection on the basis of reproductive performance’ come down to evolution in the end of course, and it is evolutionary psychology that makes the major claim on our attention at the present moment. That this is generally considered to be ‘the way to go’ is clearly demonstrated by our interest in such endeavours as the Human Genome Project, and the popularity of academics such as Daniel Dennett and Steven Pinker, who have (separately) articulated the principles of evolutionary psychology in a number of high profile books.

 

 

 

Yet, this pre-occupation with ‘game’ rules (for this is what evolutionary psychology comes down to) is manifestation of a curious and unacknowledged one-sidedness. Physics, as we all know, is a search for fundamental laws, laws that apply across the board, laws that are intrinsic to the nature of the universe itself. Why do we assume that there are no such equivalent laws to be found in psychology? As we have just said, contemporary psychology thinks only in terms of extrinsic laws, i.e. rules that are arbitrarily imposed. One reason that immediately comes to mind is that we do not see mind / consciousness as being fundamental in the same way that we see matter as being. We are, as professor of physics Amit Goswami (1993) says, confirmed material realists – we believe that only matter is real. This, of course, is a pretty big assumption on our part, although the fact of the matter is that we are now so caught up in this assumption that we don’t actually see it as such; the truth of the matter is that we have chosen to go down this road a long time ago, and we certainly aren’t showing any signs of wanting to question that choice now.  Our predisposition to see the universe we live in this way leads to some rather peculiar, if not down-right contradictory conclusions, however. The inevitable conclusion of material realism is that the only meaning to be found in life is that meaning which is conditioned by natural selection, i.e. we only find stuff meaningful because it suits the game of ‘survival of the fittest’ that we do. Philosophically, this is the same as saying that, in the final analysis, everything is meaningless, which is in keeping with the important Western tradition of philosophical pessimism. The problem with this conclusion has been pointed out quite often, however: if everything is meaningless, then so too is our assertion that ‘everything is meaningless’ meaningless; it is a null-statement. We think that when we make this statement we are saying something meaningful, but if that meaningfulness is ‘meaningful’ only because of the way in which the arbitrary rules of natural selection have caused our brains to be designed, then it is not meaningful at all, in any real sense of the word. If such is the case, then it is inescapable that anything we say must be tautological, i.e. incapable of referring to anything outside itself. This notion of ‘tautological meaning’ is, as we shall shortly see, central to our understanding of psychological entropy.

 

 

 

Just to re-iterate the point, what we have just said is that because of the closure that is necessarily involved in the ‘meaning comes out of design’ argument of the evolutionary psychologists, it goes without saying that absolutely nothing meaningful can be said, and therefore even the statement that ‘everything is meaningless’ cannot be said. This may not be immediately obvious, and it may even look as if we are agreeing with the viewpoint of material realism, which is far from being the case. ‘Everything is meaningless’ is a positive assertion, it sets out to say something that is unconditionally true.  However, we are arguing that all assertions can only ever be conditionally true, i.e. that the statement is only true within the context of meaning that it presupposes. This is a trick: what we have here is an ‘information free’ statement that nevertheless appears to be telling us something.  If someone tells you that “Everything is meaningless”, they are actually saying nothing – we might think that we are learning something new, but we are not.  Does this mean therefore, that, “Everything is meaningful”?  The answer to this question must still be ‘no,’ however – this too is untrue, because this too is a positive assertion. Actually, the only intrinsically meaningful quality of the universe is that we can say nothing positive about it; we cannot know it, in other words. The answer is not [YES] or [NO], which have no independent existence (either apart from each other, or apart from the framework of meaning within which the question was asked) but [?] which does have an existence that is independent of any external set of referents. [?] is a new term to most of us, being foreign to the Aristotelian logic that our thinking is based on, and it denotes the state of being logically unconnected, i.e. it refers to a content that is irrelevant to any framework that might be used to interpret that content. Goswami calls [?]  a discontinuity and says that it indicates an ‘inviolate level of the system’, a level that is out of the reach of the system’s own logic.

 

MAKING STUFF RELEVANT WHEN IT ISN’T

 

Another way to explain the glitch associated with making ‘unqualified positive assertions’ would be to say that we cannot make reality relevant to our categories by asking questions which require positive answers without incurring entropy, because the more we are able to learn about whatever it is we are looking at, the less able we are to know about how relevant what we are looking at is to reality as a whole. As mathematician John Bennett says, the more we find out about the particular case, the less we know about the universal set from which it arose. In other words, we can say that the more knowledge we obtain within a particular field, the less perspective we have, and so the less conscious we are of the essential relativity of that knowledge. It is as if I get very adept at playing a specific computer game, so adept, in fact, that I quite lose sight of the fact that I don’t need to play it at all. I don’t see that ‘doing’ tautologically generates its own rationale so that the skill learned is quite useless outside the context of the game. In simple terms, focussing on the “How?” drives out all awareness of the “Why?” – I become very busy, but I quite lose sight of why I have to be so busy in the first place. This is in fact the ‘hidden gain’ of neurosis, because if I am neurotic then that means that I don’t want to know why I am so busy.

 

DEFINITION OF CONSCIOUSNESS

 

The crux of the matter is that what we seem to learn, we do not, and therefore we are worse off before we even asked the question, because at least beforehand we knew that we did not know!  We can put forward a definition here:

 

Consciousness is when we know that all knowledge is relative (i.e. meaningful only in terms of the framework which we have had to assume in order to obtain it, or ‘ask the question’)

 

Consciousness therefore equals infinite relativity, or [?], which is the independent reality – self-contained, self-sufficient, and completely outside the world of cause-and-effect. In Goswami’s terms, therefore, consciousness equals the inviolate level. This unconditioned state of affairs is ‘the mother of all’; it is the chaos out of which all order was born. One could also say that it is primary to everything that is conditioned in the same way that the sea is primary to the waves that run across its surface. We can easily see this because all positive assertions depend upon an unspoken or implicit frame of meaning before they can make sense, whilst the Original Chaos (as the alchemists called it) does not depend upon any framework of meaning, because it is neither meaningful, not ‘not-meaningful’.  Any evaluation of it is beside the point, in fact it misses the point altogether since evaluation is synonymous with psychological entropy, it is a way of describing something that only works by tricking us. Evaluation is a trick because we think that it reflects an independent reality, whilst it only really reflects our assumptions, just as a closed question only really projects the questioner’s prejudices outwards onto the world which he or she is supposedly trying to learn about.

 

 

Essentially, the ‘trick’ is that we think the difference between a [YES] and a [NO] answer represents genuine information, when actually YES equals NO, because both confirm the validity (or relevance) of the question that was asked. Having a framework within which to understand stuff ‘bends meaning’ into a positive curve since everything has to come back to my assumptions. ‘Making the world relevant to me’ obviously means creating a closed world because everything has to relate back to me, there is no way that unrelated data can come into the picture. ‘No relevance’ can be denoted as [MAYBE], which presents the same face to every question; having the same face for everyone means that [MAYBE] is utterly indifferent and completely free from any prejudices. When there is no relevance there is no positive distortion of ‘meaning space’ and so we never come back to where we started. This means that what I see as a result of not trying to make stuff relevant to myself is real, and not just a reflection of myself looking back at me. The trick is therefore when I take my own reflection to be an independently existent external reality, which is to say, when I see the world that I have conditioned with my assumptions as having nothing to do with the stance that I have had to take in order to see it. When I fail to see through the trick I am bound to live out my life within what may be called a ‘solipsistic bubble of self-reference’.

 

 

EXTRINSIC VERSUS INTRINSIC MEANING

 

 

We could say that Original Chaos does indeed have a type of meaning, but this is the meaning of [?], not the meaning of [+] or [-].   What we are talking about here is the meaning of ‘contextlessness’, which Buddhism calls ‘emptiness’, this meaning is intrinsic, because it does not derive from extrinsic rules, i.e. it does not need to be supported or confirmed. However, at the same time, we can say nothing at all about that ‘meaning’ because to say something about it would be to incur an increase in the entropy of the system, which would defeat the purpose, since whatever we end up talking about, the one thing that is sure is that we would not be talking about intrinsic meaning. This is obvious once one thinks about it:  extrinsic meaning is meaning that refers to something outside of itself, and so the extrinsic meaning of a can-opener is that it has the purpose of opening cans; as to the intrinsic meaning of a can-opener, one can only say that its purpose is to be what it already is. However, this is a deeply paradoxical use of the word ‘purpose’ – I cannot intend to be what I already am, because that would imply that I have positive (i.e. non-relativistic) knowledge of what it means to be myself, which I cannot have, because I cannot get outside myself to see what I am. I can be what I am, this is evidently true, but I cannot know what I am, and I definitely cannot make a goal of being what I am. That is the well-known paradox of ‘trying to be spontaneous on purpose’. Being spontaneous equals ‘being conscious’ and if I make a goal of being conscious I automatically miss the mark every time, since in the act of trying to be conscious I cease being conscious, and consciousness is what I am. “But what is consciousness?” we might then ask in our perplexity, and the only answer possible is to say that consciousness is the ‘I’ that cannot see itself. Consciousness cannot see or define itself because it isn’t a tautological loop, it isn’t the product of its own assumptions! Therefore, instead of being known and familiar, it is forever unknown and strange – a mystery to itself.

 

REIFICATION THROUGH UNCONSCIOUSNESS

 

This leads us to consider the state of unconsciousness, which we can define simply by saying that it is when we lose sight of the relativity of all our ‘knowing’. Unconsciousness is when we fall for ‘the trick’, when we get hoodwinked, when we start to think that reality is relevant to our categories of concepts, when we think that YES doesn’t equal NO. Unconsciousness is therefore nothing other than the state of psychological entropy. Normally, in everyday language, unconscious means that we ‘do not know’, i.e. we are oblivious, or in a coma. In the definition that we have just proposed we have reversed this meaning – what we are saying is that we are unconscious when we ‘live a positively described world’, a world which is made up of positive ‘facts’ that we can definitely know. So unconsciousness is when we know, and consciousness is when we know that, despite our apparent ‘knowing’, we really don’t know at all.

 

 

If this reversal of normal meanings is a bit hard for us to take, then that is only to be expected, seeing that the paradigm which we have been brought up in is that of material realism. Material realism, as we have already mentioned, is based on the idea that matter is real and knowable, and therefore that everything else is secondary to it (or dependent upon it). Matter generally has a very tangible and uncompromising reality for us, and it is hardly mysterious why we should have formed the view that it is primary to everything else, including our subjective experience. There are however technical reasons why matter seems so solid and opaque, why it seems so quintessentially substantial to us. For example, it is uncontroversial to state that the reason we perceive matter to be ‘substantial’ has more to do with the operating modality of our sensory apparatus than anything else. If I had X-ray eyes, then I would see most of the world as transparent rather opaque, but it so happens that we utilize the particular band of electromagnetic radiation that happens to be reflected by material surfaces and that is of course why we adapted ourselves to this portion of the e.m. band. For this reason, it may be said that the world appears opaque to us purely because we have opted to look at it in that way. We can draw a parallel with the situation of a man who has taken up golf. Because of the fact that he has chosen to play the game of golf, the rules which define the game have become meaningful (or relevant) to him; however, for another man with no interest in golf, these same rules are not ‘rules’ at all, because they have zero relevance to his life. Issues are only issues because of our interest in them; they are not issues ‘in themselves’.

 

 

Of course, it is not merely that our senses create the impression that matter is ‘substantial’. Even if I were to be without any ‘senses’, I would still be interacting strongly with the physical world; I would still be breathing and eating, I would still be warmed by the sun and cooled by the breeze, and so on. This, rather obviously, is because I have a physical materiality, just as the world around me does. We shouldn’t let the ‘obviousness’ of this statement cause us to stop thinking about the idea, because it goes deeper than it may first appear to. In the example of human vision the argument works because there is a range of frequencies from which to make a choice.  When ‘choice of rules’ is arbitrary, then this is the definition of a game; I cannot say that the reality of the game is an absolute given, because it was me that arranged for it to be so. The reality is conditional, it is conditional upon my taking the rules seriously. But when we are talking about the fact that I am composed of atoms and molecules, then where is the choice in that? What else could I be made of? Atoms are, after all, the only currency of physicality that we have available to us; maybe in a parallel universe we could all get to be made of anti-matter, but that just doesn’t work in this universe. It would appear that the ‘game argument’ breaks down at this point, because it seems simply too absurd to say that the condition of being material is ‘a game’. It seems absurd, but as it happens that is precisely the direction in which the theory of high-energy physics seems to be taking us – towards the notion that particles are not real ‘in themselves’ at all, but merely ‘artefacts’ that are thrown up by the prevailing conditions. Crucial to this cosmic ‘trickery’ is the notion of entropy as self-referentiality, which is what we will try to get our heads around next.

 

 

ENTROPY AS SELF-REFERENTIALITY

 

Just to get ourselves in the right mood for thinking about self-referentiality, we will start the argument off in a very general way. We will do this by considering a particular type of strong interaction between myself and the material world: A lump of rock might feel substantial if it hits off my head, we will say, but this is because both my head and the rock are ‘playing the same game’, they have agreed beforehand to meet on a common playing field, as it were. If the ‘rock’ were composed of a collection of neutrinos, it would not interact significantly with my head at all.  When I rest my hand on the table, the reason that my hand does not pass through it is not because my hand and the table are both ‘substantial’, but simply because of the mutual repulsion of electrostatic fields. Negative charge repels negative charge – both sides are playing the same game, in other words. Interaction between fields is a subtler affair than the interaction between discrete ‘blocks’ of mass, and it is field-type interactions that everything comes down to when we look hard enough. This is a question of scale: in the everyday ‘macroscopic’ world of hands and tables we see interactions as clear-cut either/or events that happen between units of mass, but when we focus on the micro-scale level we find only fields, such as electromagnetic fields and gravitational fields. Unit masses (or particles) have cut-off points, they have edges – at one point in space there is the particle, at another point there is not, it is either YES or NO. A field is not like this at all: a field decreases in strength rapidly as we move away but it never actually disappears completely; therefore there is no definite YES and NO, only an edgeless blur of probabilities, i.e. a collection of MAYBE’s.

 

 

A rock is not a probability, either it hits you or it doesn’t, but when we start to delve into the nitty-gritty of micro-scale interactions in the physical world we find that it is MAYBE’s all the way. Some are big MAYBE’s and some are small MAYBE’s, but there is not the 100% predictability that we associate with the world of macro-scale materiality. What this means is that matter isn’t really solid when it comes right down to it, it is just a collection of probability zones. The story of particle physics is that we started off investigating what were thought to be substantial, independently existent particles, only to find that there weren’t actually any particles there, in the absolute sense in which science and philosophy had first imagined them to exist. At the present moment, physics paints a picture of an ‘uncommitted,’ or indeterminate world in which particles exist only as a shifting blur of probabilities. We seem to have learned that there is nothing there but movement, oscillation, or energy.

 

 

“But what exactly is it that is moving?” we may ask, not wanting to be put off the scent so easily. To ask this is to open up a particularly lively can of worms, however. The best that can be said (in favour of the materialist standpoint) is that when the energy-level of the system under consideration is low enough, then apparently stable entities such as neutrons and protons can be seen to crystallize out of the indeterminate flux. This appearance is in the nature of a trick really, though, because even at very low energies there is never a time when the observed particles are not part of the universal flux. Here, physicist and science writer Paul Davies (1987 p 124-5) explains the tendency for high-energy situations to become more and more symmetrical:

 

…As the energies of experiments (and of theoretical modelling) have been progressively elevated over the years, a trend has become apparent. Generally speaking, the higher the energy, the less structure and differentiation there is both in sub-atomic matter itself and the forces that act upon it.

 

Consider, for example, the various forces of nature. At low energy there seem to be four distinct fundamental forces: gravitation and electromagnetism, familiar in daily life, and two nuclear forces called weak and strong. Imagine for the sake of illustration that we could raise the temperature in a volume of space without limit, and thus simulate earlier and earlier epochs of the primeval universe. According to present theories, at a temperature of about 1015 degrees (about the current limit for direct experimentation) the electromagnetic force and the weak nuclear force merge in identity. Above this temperature there are no longer four forces, but three.

 

Theory suggests that with additional elevation of the temperature further amalgamations would take place. At 1027 degrees the strong force would merge with the electromagnetic-weak force. At 1032 degrees gravitation would join in, producing a single, unified superforce.  …

 

…If some very recent ideas are to be believed, as the temperature reaches the so-called Planck value of 1032 degrees, all matter is dissociated into its most primitive constituents, which may be simply a sea of identical strings existing in a ten-dimensional spacetime.  Moreover, under these extreme conditions, even the distinction between spacetime and matter becomes nebulous.

 

Whatever the technical details of any particular theory, the trend is that as the temperature is raised, so there is less and less structure, form and distinction among particles and forces. In the extreme high-energy limit, all of physics seems to dissolve away into some primitive abstract substratum. Some theorists have gone even further and suggested that the very laws of physics also dissolve away at ultra-high temperatures, leaving pure chaos to replace the rule of law. These bizarre changes that are predicted to take place at high energies have led to a remarkable new perspective of nature. The physical world of daily experience is now viewed as some sort of frozen vestige of an underlying physics that unifies all forces and particles into a bland amalgam.

 

PARTICLES AS TRANSIENT DISTURBANCES ON A FEATURELESS SURFACE

 

David Bohm was expressing much the same idea as the above when he said that determinate matter may be thought of as local eddies in the ‘unbroken movement’ that is the universe, little vortices that look like independent features, but which are, in their ultimate nature, just the same unbroken, ongoing movement. Another analogy he gives is that of a ripple on the surface of a pond. The ripple looks like an independent entity, but actually, it is just a movement (or modulation) of the pond. The visible feature which we know as a wave (or ripple) is made up of [+] and [-], which is to say, for every fluctuation above the baseline of ‘zero-fluctuation’ there must of course be an equal but opposite fluctuation below it. Thus, ‘flatness’, which is not a feature because it has no discernable character, and which is therefore invisible, can be conditioned or modulated to create form. The same is true for subatomic particles: empty space is featureless and invisible, but a minute portion of empty vacuum can (and does) give birth to a ‘positive’ fluctuation in the form of a positron, and a ‘negative’ fluctuation in the form of an electron. Void is thus conditioned to produce form (even though, when one adds it all up, the sum total is still void); accurate bookkeeping will always show the debit column and the credit column to balance. This being so, it follows that the apparently ‘positive’ universe which we live in must be the result of some kind of ‘loop-hole’ in the accounting system. It is to this loophole which we will now turn our attention.

 

THE ‘BIG SCAM’

 

The notion of trickery, of appearances that deceive, brings us back to our definition of entropy, and we are talking about the usual conception of entropy in the physical/energetic universe this time. Within the domain of astrophysics, it is an accepted and wholly uncontroversial idea that the evolution of structure, both on the microcosmic and macrocosmic levels is synonymous with massive increases in the entropy content of the system. The evolution of structure or form is seen to occur through the agency of a series of symmetry-breaks, each of which can be understood as the introduction (from the outside, as it were) of a new [+] / [-] split to the situation. Each ‘two-way split’ brings with it an in-built polarity, its own framework of orientation, its own order, and everything that happens from then on must be seen in terms of this framework. Without loss of original symmetry, there could be no ‘up’ and no ‘down’, no ‘left’ and no ‘right’, no ‘front’ and no ‘back’; without breaking symmetry there would be no differentiation, and so there would be no possibility of making descriptions. And yet, although this seems to us like creation, which is to say, the introduction of order where before there was none, in thermodynamic terms the exact opposite is the case – each time a symmetry-break takes place there is an information-collapse, not an information jump.

 

 

This can be understood fairly easily if we remember that information content of a system is reciprocally proportional to the predictability of the system. Before the symmetry-break predictability is zero, which means that entropy is zero, which means that the information content is infinite. This is the situation associated with a globally coherent, delocalised and indeterminate system. All there is, is [?], i.e. we don’t know what there is. Once the symmetry-break has taken place a basic predictability enters the picture – I now know, in advance, that the information of the system must be representable either in positive or negative terms (with regard to the polarity imposed by the symmetry-break in question). ‘Knowing in advance’ means predictability, it means that I can describe what is going on, it means that the universe is found to be relevant to the categories I use to evaluate it. It also means circular or tautological logic, i.e. entropy. We may therefore say that without entropy there can be no tangible universe, no materiality. There is a glitch in this apparent benefit though – we definitely seem to be getting something positive out of the symmetry breaking process, but there is a trick there in it, somewhere. This ‘trick’ is what entropy is all about. We have said that it is the breaking of symmetry which allows us the possibility of describing the universe; without a context, or ‘framework,’ within which to think about and conceptualise the world, we have absolutely no way of getting a handle on what is going on (if indeed there is anything going on, that is).  However, what we tend to forget is that the order which is produced only makes sense inside that context, in other words our description is only meaningful because of the assumptions we have had to make in order to be able to make that description.  What we have here is a tautology, a circle of logic, an exercise in self-referentiality.

 

 

However, and this is important to understand, at the same time we create the circle of logic, we also get caught in the circle, so that we don’t see that our premises condition our conclusions. What happens is that we identify with (or adapt ourselves to) our assumptions so that we can no longer see them, so that they are no longer visible to us. We take them for granted, just as a fish (presumably) takes the water it swims in for granted. This automatic loss of perspective is a manifestation of irreversibility, which is simply another way of talking about entropy. So, symmetry breaking allows us to describe the world, but in the end the answers that we get pertain to the question that was asked.  Not to mince words, we have to say that what we are talking about here is a complete scam: the phenomenal world we see as a result of breaking symmetry only seems real because a twofold manoeuvre:

 

[1] We are looking at the universe in a particular way (i.e. we have taken a specific slant on it)

 

 

[2] We are unconscious of the fact that we have this information-processing bias

 

Therefore, everything tangible that we see and otherwise interact with must properly be considered to be a conditioned vision (whose conditions we are not aware of). In blunter terms, the structure that is produced by a breaking original symmetry must ultimately be defined as an illusion – it is the result of circular logic, and therefore it is quite empty.

 

 

THE LAW OF ONE

 

As Davies says, the entropy of the system has a relationship to the energy possessed by the system. If you heat matter up enough, it loses its predictability. This predictability consists in a large part in the way matter appears as completely separate, and diverse units; it comes in packages with different labels, in other words. When given enough energy, there no longer seem to be separate particles, and if really colossal energy levels are reached, all the physical laws and constants which cause the universe to be differentiated, merge together to create just the ‘one law’. This is a truly bizarre thing for us to try to contemplate, because if all laws are merged together, that is the same as saying that there is no law at all. As a matter of fact, this can be seen to be true if we consider that the state of perfect symmetry is the state in which all directions are the same, and since we can tell one direction from another only by virtue of their difference, this means that there is no such thing as directionality in perfect symmetry. Any notions of orientation in space and time that we might have had, vanish in a flash, and we are left with radical uncertainty, ‘contextlessness,’ ‘groundlessness’, or simply [?]. A particular example of a symmetry breaking theory, known as the Weinberg-Salam theory, is here explained by Stephen Hawkins (1988, p 79):

 

……The Weinberg- Salaam theory exhibits a property known as spontaneous symmetry breaking. This means that what appear to be a number of completely different particles at low energies are in fact found to be all the same type of particle, only in different states.  At high energies all these particles behave similarly. The effect is rather like the behaviour of a roulette ball on a roulette wheel. At high energies (when the wheel is spun quickly) the ball behaves in essentially only one way, – it rolls round and round. But as the wheel slows, the energy of the ball decreases, and eventually the ball drops into one of the thirty-seven slots in the wheel. In other words, at low energies there are thirty-seven different states in which the ball can exist. If, for some reason, we could only observe the ball at low energies, we would then think that there were thirty-seven different types of ball!

 

What Hawkins is saying, then, is that there is a sort of illusion that operates after the original symmetry has broken, which was not operating beforehand, namely the illusion that there are thirty-seven types of ball in all, when in fact there is only one type. It is this same basic idea which lies behind all symmetry breaking theories – in the more bizarre variants, as for example in the ‘single-electron theory’ (where a single electron goes back and forth in time like an embroidery needle to create the universe), it is not the case that there is only one type of particle, but only one individual particle – the universal electron! Pushing it further, even the definition of ‘an electron’ must break down, since we define an electron in terms of its interactions (obviously enough, since that is the only way we get to know about it), and when there is only the one particle, then the only type of interactions that there can be are ‘interactions with oneself,’ i.e. self-referentiality. The principle of ‘interacting with oneself’ is, we may note, the key characteristic of another well known theory in subatomic physics, namely Geoffrey Chew’s ‘bootstrap theory’, in which a set of particles give rise to themselves through a process of mutual interaction. A simplified general version of boot-strapping would be: A creates B, which creates C, which creates D, which in turn creates A, which creates B

 

 

This is a modern version of a very ancient idea, the idea that creation that occurs as a paradoxical trick. Paradoxical creation is exemplified by the myth of the Egyptian god Horus, who was ‘father to his own father’, and thus cyclically produced himself. The reverse idea, of cyclic self-devouring, is also of ancient origin, and can be seen in the alchemical motifs of the pelican who feeds her young on blood from her own breast, and the dragon or serpent which swallows its own tail, the Uroboros.

 

THE ‘GAME OF GOD’

 

What we have here, therefore, speaking in the most general of terms, is a picture of an unknowable ‘one thing’ which reacts with itself (in some way) to produce, through a series of unfolding symmetry breaks, an apparent plurality of laws and particles. This is a new vision of cosmogenesis for science, but a very old story in other quarters. Alan Watts points out (as have others) that this is what the Hindu mythology refers to as lila, cosmic play, or ‘the game of God.’  The game of God, crudely put, is to split Himself (or Herself) into many parts or fragments, induce nearly total amnesia in these parts regarding their true identity, and then let them find their way back to unity again.  The game works because of the veil of Maya, or illusion, which causes us to perceive ourselves and the world as being other than it really is.  As the Greek philosopher Heraclitus said, several thousands of years ago “the nature of Reality is to appear what it is not.”  The ‘trickery’ that goes on is essentially the operation of the principle of entropy: in a universe whose ultimate nature is that of radical uncertainty (i.e. infinite instability or ‘groundlessness’), any predictability can only ever be qualified predictability, or, equivalently, any certainty must necessarily be trivial certainty. Basically this means that we assume that something is ‘X’, and we proceed to interact on this basis, without asking any potentially embarrassing questions. When a symmetry break takes place, we get caught up in the ‘qualified predictability’ (and ‘qualified describe-ability’) and we take it from there, which is to say, we don’t worry about what the ‘real’ nature of phenomena and events might be. It is in this sense that we can say that matter is a game, i.e. a set of interactions that occur around a provisional set of rules.

 

 

The above discussion points to the meaning of the often-repeated Zen koan “What is the sound of one hand clapping?”  When there is only ‘one’ then obviously there can be no opposition, and when there is no opposition there is no definition. It takes two hands to clap; ‘two’ is the trick, because there is not really a division there at all. When there is no division there can be no form, no structure, no conflict, and no sound of clapping; instead there is formlessness, endlessly profound peace – the fathomless peace that ensues when things are allowed to be what they already are. This is the ‘silence’ of perfect symmetry. For the opposites to arise, loss of consciousness is needed, so that the One can be seen as a diversity of separate things; [YES] and [NO] are mistakenly seen to have absolute and independent existence, rather than being the two sides of the same arbitrary symmetry break. When the opposites arise, the world arises, since form comes from the conflict of opposites. ‘Clapping’ equals the phenomenal universe. Therefore, it is entropy that allows the One to produce the many.

 

 

We find the same idea expressed in the well known axiom from the Tabula smaragdina: the Emerald Tablet of Hermes Trismegistos: “What is below is like what is above, that the miracle of the one thing may be accomplished.” Concerning the ‘one thing’ of which the alchemists speak Jung (Vol 13, par 175) says:

 

…. This one thing is the lapis or filius philosophorum. As the definitions and names of the prima materia make abundantly plain, matter in alchemy is material and spiritual, and spirit material and spiritual. Only in the first case matter is cruda, confusa, grossa, crassa, densa, and in the second it is subtilis. …

 

 

TWO ‘NO-NONSENSE’ DEFINITIONS OF PSYCHOLOGICAL ENTROPY

 

Before we go any further we will come straight to the point and define entropy (in its psychological aspect) as clearly and simply as we can. Firstly, and most straightforwardly, we can say that just as entropy, generally speaking, is a measure of ‘information loss’ in the system under consideration, psychological entropy may be seen as a measure of ‘loss of perspective’ in awareness. Maximum perspective is when I can see what I am looking at from all possible angles, and not get trapped in any of them. A loss of perspective occurs when I fixate on one way of looking at the world to the exclusion of all the others. Therefore, if I fly into a rage about some relatively trivial inconvenience, and completely lose the ability to laugh at myself and my predicament, then this is a classic manifestation of psychological entropy. There has been a dramatic collapse in the information content of the system. A second, slightly more technical definition of psychological entropy can be given in terms of games. We shall define a ‘game’ in a slightly unfamiliar manner by saying that it is the situation where [YES] is seen as being not equal to [NO].  To bring more of a psychological slant to our definition of games, we can say that a game is when I assert that is ‘so’ in order to distract myself from thinking that it might ‘not be so’.  Basically, I am saying [YES] in order to repress [NO], although if I hadn’t said YES, then the possibility of NO wouldn’t have come up in the first place. This is what James Carse refers to as the ‘contradictoriness of finite play’. In order to play, it is necessary that I do not see this inherent and ineradicable contradictoriness, and this is a matter of perspective: I can see how [YES] doesn’t equal [NO], but I can’t see how [YES] does equal [NO] – I can’t see how they are the two ends of the same stick. This informationally collapsed thinking is the hall-mark of a game, it is in the nature of things that a game only works when we can’t see the full picture, and for this reason we can say that the state of mind in which the game holds us in thrall is the state of mind which is the result of a wholesale loss of information. Therefore, games are synonymous with psychological entropy. Another approach to this definition would be to say that entropy equals ‘motivation’ or ‘purposefulness’ since we couldn’t have a logically constructed goal or purpose unless we saw the world in a one-sided fashion. If I see all sides equally, then there is no built-in compulsion. From this it is just a small step to say that entropy equals ‘beliefs’ since it is necessary to see things only the one way if I am to hold onto a particular belief. In order to have a compelling mental structure to believe in, I have to play a game – I have to see [+] as not being equal to [-]. When [+] = [-] then there is no more structure, there is only the ‘one thing’ of the alchemists, which is also the ‘formless void’ of the Buddhists.  This means that entropy can be related to the state of mind known to Buddhists and Hindus alike as Maya, which is the psychological situation in which illusions appear real. Therefore, entropy equals ‘trickery’.

 

IS <“ENTROPY = A TRICK”> A SCIENTIFIC STATEMENT?

 

 

In most textbooks on thermodynamics entropy is not defined as trickery and for us to do so might seem rather suspect, or at the very least ‘unscientific’. It is not too difficult to derive our definition scientifically, however. Entropy is usually defined in terms of the predictability of a system – i.e. the more we can know in advance about a particular system what we are going to find in it when we do look at it, then the higher the amount of entropy S is in the system we are studying. Scientifically speaking, ‘trick’ and ‘predictability’ go together because the only way we can get the universe to be predictable is by instigating a symmetry break (or ‘information collapse’). If we don’t do this then we don’t get to measure anything, and if we can’t measure anything, then that means that the ‘unpredictability’ of what are looking at has gone right off the scale!

 

 

Now, we have cheated a tiny bit just then because we ignored the fact that the material universe has kindly collapsed itself for us already – it already has its own intrinsic brand of predictability. The physical laws and constants are the most essential manifestation of this, and the stable features of our physical environment are the most practical manifestation. However, our cheat is not that serious because, as we saw, matter itself only gets to be local (i.e. bounded and predictable) by way of a trick. We looked at self-referentiality as a means of generating apparent plurality from actual unity, albeit only in terms of a general outline. This idea – along with the link to Hindu mythology – has been put forward before by Amit Goswami in his book The Self-Aware Universe, although so far his ideas do not seem to have made much impact on the progress of the increasingly dominant culture of material realism. Goswami (1993, p 175) approaches the question of ‘how the one becomes many’ via quantum physics and ‘tangled hierarchies’, as we can see from the following passage:

 

…Our consciousness chooses the outcome of the collapse of the quantum state of our brain-mind. Since this outcome is a conscious experience, we choose our conscious experiences – yet remain unconscious of the underlying process. It is this unconsciousness that leads to the illusory separateness – the identity with the separate “I” of self-reference (rather than the “we” of unitive consciousness). The illusory separateness takes place in two stages, but the basic mechanism involved is called tangled hierarchy.

 

We do not have the space here to go into Gowami’s quantum approach, beyond making a few brief comments. A ‘quantum collapse’ is the process by which the system in question ceases to exist in a number of superimposed parallel ‘possibility states’ and has to choose to exist in just one of them. As Goswami (p174) says “…the state of superposition, the multifaceted state that exists in potentia, is reduced to just one actualised facet.”  The change from being ‘spread out everywhere in possibility space’, where one is ‘trying out’ a myriad potential ways of being without being committed to any of them, to ‘having to exist in just one definite mode of being’, is a quintessential information collapse. A ‘tangled hierarchy’ is a type of logical paradox caused by self-reference, an example of which would be the self-referential statement “Everything I say is a lie”. What happens in a tangled hierarchy is that we get trapped on one level of logic so that we cannot see the nature of the trick that is being perpetrated upon us. It can been seen from this short discussion of Goswami’s work that the ideas that have been so far expressed in our ‘argument’ about psychological entropy are not new, only widely unappreciated!

 

 

CONCLUSION: ‘PSYCHOLOGICAL’ VERSUS ‘PHYSICAL’ ENTROPY

 

To conclude this section on the definition of entropy, we can say that certainty, in whatever form we may encounter it, can only exist as the result of ‘a trick’.  There are, we may say, two types of certainty. One would be psychological certainty, by which we mean ideas, thoughts, beliefs etc, and the other would be physical certainty, by which we simply mean ‘materiality,’ i.e. the condition of having a high enough probability of ‘being there’ to warrant the status of physical existence. Materiality is thus a ‘collapsed state’.  To get back to what we said at the beginning of this paragraph, we can say that both types of certainty get to be ‘certain’ only through a trick since (in general terms) the only way we can ever know anything for sure, is within the context of a game. This is the only time that I can get away with making a definite (or unqualified) statement without fear of contradiction. For example, I can say that Manchester United won the match last Saturday and, if true, that sounds very much like a certainty. However, this certainty is a trick because it is assumed that the terms ‘Manchester United’, ‘match’ and ‘Saturday’ have an objective meaning of their own, when they do not. These terms only make sense within an ‘agreed-upon framework’, which we agree upon and then forget about. This is obvious – what is “Saturday” after all, apart from a convention? Whilst this can easily be argued in the realm of ideas, matter appears to be a different kettle of fish, as we have already noted. Yet the principle is the same: the ‘agreed-upon framework’ arises with the information-collapse (which, as Goswami, necessarily says involves a ‘choice’ being made between a range of possibilities) and once the collapse takes place the, the rest of the superpositions get forgotten about. The final point that needs to be made is that the material and the mental are not so very different at all. This can be seen from the following argument. Matter has two states: one is the collapsed state which we are familiar with, and the other is the ‘uncollapsed’ state where it gets to be smeared out all over ‘possibility space’ without being anywhere in particular. This is what physicists call a ‘globally coherent quantum state’, where ‘globally coherent’ means that there is ‘all-over’ unimpeded communication, which translates as infinite information content.

 

 

Thought also has two states: one being the collapsed state where I can see how a particular assertion is true, but not how it is ‘not true’. This is the ‘simplex’ psychological situation, i.e. minimized perspective (or ‘rationality’). The other state is the ‘complex’ psychological situation, where I can see how the assertion is both true, and untrue, at the same time. We can look at this another way, and say that the globally coherent mental state is the state where I am ‘smeared out’ equally all over ‘mind-space’, where ‘mind-space’ equals the space of ‘all mental possibilities’ (the alchemist Paracelsus referred to this universal mental set as the Ides, in keeping with Plato who said that in addition to the world we see there is also an ‘ideal world of perfect ideas’). As we have noted before, if I am seeing the world in every possible way, all at the same time, then this in turn means that the previously unproblematic constructs of ‘myself’ and ‘the world’ become totally falsified.  They evaporate into infinite relativity. Both coherent states (both matter and mind) have infinite information content and both are ‘delocalised’, and for this reason it does not seem very worthwhile continuing to distinguish between them. Both correspond to what Robert Anton Wilson (1990) calls the ‘non-local quantum circuit’ which he suggests as the highest possible level of awareness. Alternatively, he speaks of ‘the non-local self’, which Aldous Huxley has referred to more poetically as ‘mind at large’. Having moved on from ‘definitions of entropy’ to ‘definitions of consciousness’ we will now take a little time to explore the awkward relationship between the discipline of psychology and the phenomenon of ‘consciousness’.

 

 

CONSCIOUSNESS – DEPENDENT, OR INDEPENDENT?

 

If matter only has provisional (or qualified) existence, as we have argued, then where does that leave material realism, the view that takes matter as being fundamentally real? What is more pertinent to our subject, which is the nature of ‘psychological’ or ‘subjective’ reality, where does this leave material realism’s claim that consciousness is an epiphenomenon, a mere by-product of matter? Clearly, that would mean that consciousness must be no more than a side effect of a side effect; it would mean, in fact, that consciousness is secondary to (or dependent upon) an illusion, which can hardly be expected to leave us feeling very good about ourselves. Admittedly, we didn’t feel too great about ourselves to start off with, since we had already written off our conscious life as a side-effect of something else, namely an inanimate physical world which is indifferent to everything that we, as thinking, feeling beings, value.  Nevertheless, by identifying ourselves with an objective physical reality of which we can be completely certain we do obtain an important psychological ‘pay-off’ – we obtain security, an ontological ground on which to base our thinking. With that supposedly rock-solid prop gone, then we really will find ourselves in a strange position, we will need to look for some other source of support.  The one thing we are most reluctant to see is the possibility that we might actually be better off without constantly trying to justify our conscious life by looking for something supposedly ‘real’ to hang it on. There are serious disadvantages to the tried-and-trusted materialist paradigm; the main one is, obviously, is that there is no such thing as ‘matter’ when it comes right down to it, but another problem is that we were forced by our standpoint to alienate ourselves from who we actually are. Material realism has driven us to ‘write-off’ what lies at the very heart of our being, it has forced us to deny consciousness.

 

UNCERTAINTY AVOIDANCE

 

When one talks too much about consciousness as a thing in itself with ‘scientifically-minded’ people one often comes across a certain impatience, as if too much were being made of it. Most of us would rather focus on whatever it is that we are being conscious of, and talk about that, instead.  Even if I happened to be a scientist studying consciousness, what I am really interested in doing is identifying the specific properties of the substrate which facilitates the phenomenon; I want to relate consciousness to tangible physical processes that I already, in principle, know about. If I could do this, the satisfaction involved would be tremendous, not just for me, but for everyone else as well. I would definitely get a Nobel Prize for that – no question about it!  The curious thing is, though, that what I am actually wanting to do, is to get rid of consciousness. That is my real motivation. We generally think that consciousness is quite compatible with ‘knowing stuff for sure’, but a moment’s reflection would show that absolute (i.e. final) knowledge is the complete opposite of awareness. ‘Knowing stuff for sure’ simply means being completely unaware of the assumptions that I have had to make in order to arrive at that knowledge, it means being unaware of the arbitrary nature of the context of meaning that I am using. For this reason, knowing stuff for sure is the same thing as being unconscious. When I am relating to the unconditioned reality, rather than my own thoughts, then I am acutely aware of the relativity of all knowledge, and that means that I am face to face with radical uncertainty. What we do not properly realize, therefore, is that our primary goal is to annihilate radical uncertainty. We hate it, it scares us silly – in fact it scares us so much that we won’t even allow ourselves to realize how much it scares us. Our cowardice (i.e. our lack of integrity) is so total that we cannot even perceive it. Because of our undeclared aim to eradicate radical uncertainty, we have ended up in the bizarre position of having to deny our own true nature; we are forced by our cowardice to deny the only thing that is really worth anything. But, why should we be so frightened of groundlessness? One answer would be to say that, because of the fact that we are so committed to seeing the world within a framework of extrinsic meaning, we can only appreciate meaning that comes in packages. This means that when we do get an intimation of ‘contextless-ness’, we have to interpret this as null meaning. Because it does not come to us conveniently packaged in terms that are understandable to our evaluative system, we have to take it that it is meaningless; as Bohm says, the nature of thought is that ‘the system’ has to assume that it is not a system, but in fact the whole of reality, and for this reason there is simply no way that the system of thought can allow for the possibility that there is a higher order of reality outside of it. The system only exists at all through its total denial that there is such as thing as a reality that is outside the system. Therefore, the system is denial.

 

THE ENEMY IS…

 

Here we see the quintessential tautology that lies behind self-maintenance: I am terrified of ‘no context’ because I can only appreciate meaning that comes within a context, since I am committed to this mode of functioning. Yet, if I hadn’t committed myself to that mode of functioning, then I would be able to appreciate intrinsic meaning (i.e. meaning which has no context), and, instead of being threatened by it, I would recognize it as my own true nature.  There is a glitch here that I cannot see. Furthermore, because the solidity of my constructs is based upon denial, there is always the unspoken threat of the annihilation of my constructed meaning. There is an echo of falseness there somewhere, that I can never quite blank out. Correctly, I perceive, on some deep unconscious level, that it is radical uncertainty that poses the threat, since it is in the nature of radical uncertainty to utterly falsify all ‘positive’ statements. What I do not appreciate is that my constructs are only threatened because they are false and ‘unnecessary’ – rather than seeing this, I identify uncertainty as an implacable enemy, an enemy so deadly that its name cannot even be spoken. Our fear is of surrendering our managed reality to the bottomless abyss of radical uncertainty, and yet it is this fear itself that does the damage, not radical uncertainty. Through our identification of ‘the enemy’ we end up destroying ourselves; the enemy is not what we identify it as being, the enemy is ourselves identifying the enemy. This is the tautology that it is so hard for us to see: The enemy is the act of identifying the enemy!

 

PRE-EMPTING

 

Another way to explain this unconsciously ironic act of ‘consciousness denial’ is to say that we are so frightened of finding out that ‘it is all meaningless’ that we rushed in to say it ourselves, thereby saving us from feeling the blow so much, because it was us who said it first. I blow up the world first, because I think someone else is about to do it, so that I can then at least have the satisfaction of being in control. Obviously, this is a very bad case of ‘jumping the gun’, and the grand irony is that it is us who brought the meaninglessness we fear upon ourselves, by our defence against it. The spectre of meaninglessness is our own creation, and our act of denial is the way in which we destroy ourselves. Attempting to secure meaning, we destroy it, or, to paraphrase what Steve Hagen (1997) has said: through falsely believing that we have to seek out meaning, we lose the meaning we already had before we set out to find it. This glitch has significant consequences. Unaware of the colossal mistake that we are making, we press forward blindly into what can only be called ‘spiritual despair’ – the self-destructive denial of our own true nature. We think that our growing scientific knowledge about universe and ourselves is the mature act of a civilization that wishes to know the truth, no matter how unpalatable that truth might be, but if material realism is no more than craven ‘uncertainty-denial,’ then that puts a totally different complexion on things. If material realism is the wrong road, then the so-called ‘science’ of psychology is actually a conditioned (or ‘unfree’) response of an unacknowledged psychological drive – the drive towards unconsciousness. What we are engaged in is not an objective search for the truth about ourselves at all, but the complete opposite of this. What we call ‘psychology’ is a purely unconscious defensive mechanism: its overt agenda is to provide objective knowledge, whilst its hidden agenda is to obscure the truth.

 

 

Psychology is part of our attempt to distract ourselves from finding out who we really are. This bizarre assertion is actually crucial to our whole argument, since what we are going to try to show is that this act of ‘avoidance’ is the way in which psychological entropy manifests itself. In other words, the edifice of rational denial which we have been so busy erecting is at root nothing else that the enactment of the law of psychological entropy. This law, we may say, is the psychological equivalent of the second law of thermodynamics, which asserts that the predictability of a closed system can only increase. In psychological terms, a closed system is when there are assumptions that have been made, and which henceforth become unquestionable (such as the assumption that consciousness is secondary to matter) – I say that something is true, and then I proceed on this basis; it doesn’t matter a damn if it really is true, because the whole point is not that be true, but that I act as if it were true! If I started looking deeper then that would be a different story entirely, but radical questioning (i.e. questioning the original assumption) is the one thing that I am guaranteed not to do.

 

SECTION 1: THE CONCEPTUAL MIND AS ENTROPY

 

What we are going to argue here is that the problem stems from the fact that rational thought is itself a manifestation of entropy, which is to say: Thought’s natural property is to create ‘one-sidedness’ and ‘ignore-ance,’ otherwise known as unconsciousness. Crudely put, what this means is that when we think, we think ourselves into a hole. John Horgan (1996, p 228) quotes Nobel prize-winning doctor / biologist / physicist Staurt Kauffman as saying “To be is to classify is to act, all of which means throwing away information. So just the act of knowing requires ignorance.”  Basically – to reformulate what is now a familiar formula – as soon as I take a standpoint (as I must to be able to say anything) I put myself in a position from which I can only see those aspects of reality which are logically related (i.e. relevant) to that position; once I process information according to a set of rules, anything that was not visible to those rules is flushed down the entropic toilet and cannot be retrieved. There is no way to work backwards – the process of classification is properly irreversible. More generally speaking, we can say that rationality, focussing as it does upon the specific, the determinate, and the local, necessarily excludes the universal, the indeterminate, and the non-local. The local is the ‘business’ of the rational mind, that is its meat, its rightful domain, and it really doesn’t care about anything else. At the same time, however, this same mind, along with its areas of particular concern, arose out of a vastly wider picture, the non-local ‘context’ of the universal set. In fact this ‘context’ is so wide that it isn’t a context at all, since there is nothing outside it. There are no external points of reference, no extrinsic source of order.

 

 

What we are saying here is that the only way to see things without incurring entropy is through a totally open view, a view that doesn’t exclude anything. This is the view which is not ‘conceptually mediated’, a way of processing information that is unbiased, and which is, therefore, nothing to do with ‘processing’ at all. It is sometimes said, by Zukov (1979) for example, that it is impossible to see the world without some sort of prejudice, and there is clearly a sense in which this is true. The sticking point here would seem to be the use of the word ‘seeing’: as long as seeing is taken to imply the presence of a separate agent (or self) which interacts with the world, then there is an unavoidable bias because a separate self is a bias. This was a sticking point for Jung too – he could appreciate the Hindu and Buddhist idea of ‘ego-lessness’ up to a point, but he could not accept the idea of consciousness without any sort of a centre at all. If there is no ego, then who is there to be conscious? This problem simply does not arise if we take as our starting point the definition of consciousness as the state of unbroken symmetry, i.e. as the situation where there is no abstracted object (the self), and no abstracted subject (the world). There is no split between subject and object because no arbitrary dividing line has been drawn; consciousness does not ‘belong’ to anyone because there is no one for it to belong to. Rather, it is a wholly independent reality, the non-conditioned void, the state of absolute irrelevance to all possible models. We could also say that it is the ‘default’ state of affairs were things are allowed to be exactly what they already are, which is not blank emptiness or the ‘void of nothingness’, but rather a state which it is impossible to describe because it is ‘devoid of the capacity to be defined’, which is not as negative as it initially sounds. This state is what we have been referring to as radical uncertainty, or [?]. We can sum up what we have just said by stating that, whilst there is no possibility of having an unprejudiced view of reality from the standpoint of a separate self, there is the possibility of ‘direct’ (or unbiased) awareness just as soon as that illusion of separate selfhood is dropped. When this happens the awareness involved is pure process, with no reified abstractions arising to complicate matters. In this connection David Bohm made the point that we usually assume the business of awareness to involve ‘reflective correspondence’ – i.e. we think that awareness has to involve me making a picture or model of the world inside my head, and then acting on the basis of my model. Bohm argues that since both ‘observed’ and ‘observer’ have their root in the one, undivided movement that is the universe, it is this mutual participation that allows genuine awareness, rather than deduction or logical inferences on the part of a reified, independently existing self.

 

 

MIND VERSUS CONSCIOUSNESS

 

We have already defined consciousness as being the state of maximum perspective, i.e. the cognitively indeterminate state which prevails when we realize that all our statements (or thoughts) about the world are provisional. We could equivalently say that consciousness is when we realize that all knowledge is true only in relation to the framework we use to derive it. This formulation necessarily excludes the possibility of ‘universal knowledge’ – which is to say, any sort of rational or objective knowledge of the whole, since, as Godel’s Incompleteness Theorem shows, there is no framework which encompasses the whole. There is no ‘rational over-view’. Another way to put this would simply be to say that the universe possesses the property of infinite complexity – as Prigogine and Stengers (1985) say, there is no possibility of a ‘divine vantage point’ from which to survey the whole of everything.  Just as there is no possibility of containing the whole of reality within the one conceptual pot, so too it is impossible to ‘contain consciousness’ within our rule-based reckoning – this means that consciousness itself cannot be defined or explained in any way, since there exists no extrinsic set of referents within which to do so. Finally, we can put the finishing touch on our non-definition of consciousness by saying that it is the state of zero psychological entropy, which is to say, it is the state of perfect cognitive symmetry. In plain English, this means that all ways of looking at (or describing) the universe are equally good, and this, paradoxically, means that, ultimately, there is no way to describe it.

 

 

When we talk about our consciousness, what we are usually talking about is our rational mind. Whilst consciousness is based upon all-inclusivity (which is not a logical operation, since it means that all rules are equally allowed) rationality is founded upon the necessity of having some rules being preferentially emphasized, which is to say, it works only because certain rules are defined and expressed, whilst all the rest are not. This is dissymmetry (or polarity) because one direction is not the same as the other – the pitch is uneven. In the perfect directionless symmetry of consciousness all directions are the same, the only rule being that there shall be no rule. In the polar situation that is mind there is always information that is ‘not allowed’, that is repressed, but when nothing is repressed, infinite unpredictability is the result, and this is the same thing as ‘infinite information’, i.e. ‘zero entropy’. When only some rules are allowed, what occurs has to agree with these rules, i.e. the conditioned reality has to reflect the rules that condition it, and therefore the situation is tautological in the same way that the expansion of an algebraic expression is tautological. Each time the terms of an algebraic expression are expanded, it looks as if there is a change, a development, but in reality there is no new information entering the picture – the conclusion was contained within the premises. Therefore, in the rational mind the only activity or change that occurs is the type that happens when there is a logical development of data based upon rules that are invisible to the thinker. There is the illusion of novelty, of being able to think new things, but actually everything thought is merely a variation of the same old theme. We think that we are going on a journey, but really we are being taken for a ride! The bottom line is that the rational mind is a limited thing, it is a circle – give it long enough and it will always come back to where it started.  When we illustrate mind’s basic ‘predictability’ in this way, what we are really saying is that the operation of mind is intimately linked with entropy production. Alternatively, we could simply say that ‘the rational-evaluative mind is entropy’.

 

CLEVERNESS THAT IS AGAINST ITSELF…

 

From what we have said so far, it is plain that there is a very good reason why we choose to totally ignore the operation of entropy in the realm of psychology. That reason can be set out as follows:

 

[1] Rationality works by ‘ignoring’ / ‘exclusion’ / ‘one-sideness’

 

 

[2] Entropy itself can also be explained in terms of ‘ignoring’ – which is to say, perpetuating the same pattern over and over again, no matter what, so that all other possibilities are ‘denied’

 

 

[3] If rationality really got to grips with the meaning of psychological entropy it would have to become aware of it’s ‘ignoring’

 

 

[4] If rationality got interested in its own ignoring, then it couldn’t function.  If rationality didn’t ignore its own ignoring it wouldn’t be rationality – it would not be able to ‘draw a line’ (or identify a limit), and thus it could never get started. Without ignoring the way in which the position of the line is arbitrary, rationality cannot proceed – it has to see the drawing of the line as being ‘inevitable’, i.e. unquestionable.

 

 

Perhaps, therefore, it should come as no surprise that conventional psychology is looking in completely the opposite direction: astrophysics and particle physics may be interested in such things as symmetry breaking and the role of entropy in the formation of the definite world that we see around us, but not psychology, because that would be too close to the bone. We don’t actually want to know ourselves! Whilst it appears that in physics we can tolerate the idea of an essentially indeterminate universe, of a ‘non-local system’ that lies behind the visible, measurable world, in psychology we are heading as fast as ever we can in the opposite direction. Robert Anton Wilson is one exception to the rule, and in his book Quantum Psychology he goes straight to the heart of the matter with the idea of the ‘non-local self’. Amit Goswami, as we have seen, is another exception. However, these are the exceptions that prove the rule, and the trend in psychology as a whole is towards sourcing consciousness in the local and the certain, rather than the non-local and the uncertain. The point that we are making here is that this desire to ‘define’ is itself a manifestation of the law of psychological entropy!

 

 

Psychological entropy is the urge which we all have to make definite assertions, to form cast-iron opinions, to attach ourselves to rock-solid beliefs; it is what lies behind our need to constantly describe the world to ourselves and to have theories and models and hypotheses to explain these descriptions; it is in fact our cherished rationality, the so-called ‘light of reason’ upon whose alter we daily worship. Psychological entropy as a force is characterized by its duplicity, by the way in which it appears to be aiming for one thing, whilst actually the underlying agenda is something quite different. This duplicity is found in no short measure within the mainstream of psychology: like a skilful politician throwing out red herrings to side-track the popular press, we busy ourselves looking in totally the wrong direction and coming out with vast amounts of data that means nothing at all! If we weren’t unconsciously driven by our need to avoid finding out the truth (which is to say, if weren’t busily practicing ‘uncertainty avoidance’) then we would not have such a blind spot regarding the nature of the law of psychological entropy, and the primary role that it has in everyday life.

 

ESOTERIC VERSUS EXOTERIC PSYCHOLOGY

 

It is at this point that we have to confront a certain difficulty. Generally speaking, one can only go so far in the expression of ‘radical views’ before the audience comes to the unavoidable conclusion that the holder of these views is eccentric, that he or she is not playing with a full deck. The problem is that we want to express just such an ‘ultra-radical’ view, and yet get away with it, as it were. One way in which we might be able to do this is by pointing out the difference between esoteric and exoteric (or ‘orthodox’) psychology. We have already mentioned so-called ‘esoteric psychology’, which we might attempt to define by saying that it is an approach to understanding consciousness and the mind which is essentially idiosyncratic. That is to say, it does not ‘dove-tail’ with the system of knowledge that we use to understand everything else, being not at all consistent with the context of the culture which it occurs within. On the contrary, the logic of an esoteric system is peculiar to itself and sometimes seems to serve no other purpose apart from turning everything that we normally see as common sense upside down. For this reason, the natural reaction is for us to get annoyed and stop wasting our time with it as quickly as we can. The ancient ‘science’ of alchemy has this effect. However, a moment’s reflection, if we had time for that, would show us that this is what esoteric psychology is all about – its function is to shock us deeply, to upset the apple cart of our mind. If we do not want to be upset, then that is of course our own business and we are free to go on as usual, happily or unhappily ignoring anything that disagrees with our basic assumptions.

 

 

Needless to say, the vast majority of us do not want to be upset because we have far too much invested in the status quo: we might complain about our lot but we aren’t really sincere when we say that we want to change. We only want change that makes sense within our present way of looking at things; we only want change if it does not threaten our unconscious assumptions. Therefore, we don’t want change. For this reason, it can be seen that esoteric psychology is bound to be taken seriously only by a minority of the total population. On the face of it, the whole business of ‘esotericism’ tends to appear rather odious and elitist (since it is often portrayed as a secret knowledge which is to be shared only amongst the chosen few) but there does seem to be a sense in which this disproportionate division in humanity is actually a natural feature, and not an imposed regime. The experiment is easy to make – visit everybody you know and try your luck in interesting each person in the principles of esoteric psychology (that doesn’t mean preaching like a fundamentalist Christian, it just means seeing if the other person can appreciate the sense of what you are saying – whether they can bring themselves to ‘see the world in this way’ if only just for a moment). What inevitably seems to happen is that most people cannot bring themselves to drop their normal views long enough to entertain the radically different viewpoint that we have been discussing, the supremely unbiased viewpoint which say that that ‘all views are equally right/wrong.” It is not so much that they listen, and then disagree, but rather that they identify what you are saying as pitiably wrong-headed just as soon as they start to get an intimation of the direction the conversation is headed in. In many cases there is a strong automatic negative reaction to the ideas, whilst in other cases the person genuinely can’t seem to make out what you are trying to get across, and they just lose interest.  A small percent of people will find the ideas both highly interesting, and life affirming, rather than aberrant, meaningless or life denying.

 

A CHEMICAL ANALOGY

 

The suggestion that there is a natural ‘law’, so to speak, that divides humanity into two classes of ‘common’ and ‘uncommon’, does seem unpleasantly reminiscent of fascistic philosophies of the past, which liked to imagine that there was an ethical/moral code for the common people, and no code at all for the superior elite, who are a law unto themselves. It is necessary to be very clear on this point: there is no question of there being any difference whatsoever in the innate capabilities of individuals, any more than there is any difference in the innate properties of nitrogen molecules in a jar full of the gas – what one molecule does, any can do. However it is equally true (in fact it is a statistical fact) that only a very small minority of the nitrogen molecules will be found – at any one moment – to be engaging in abnormal (i.e. ‘non-equilibrium’) behaviour. How could this be otherwise? If the majority of the molecule were happily engaged in behaving in an odd fashion, then that behaviour wouldn’t be odd at all, but normal, and then we would be able to point at the very few that were behaving ‘normally’, and re-categorize them as statistically abnormal. There is no way to get out of this. The comparison of human beings with ‘mere’ nitrogen molecules may in itself seem unjustified, but the point that we are arguing is precisely that there is nothing that is not subject to the law of entropy, and statistical predictability is a measure of entropy and nothing else.

 

ERGODICITY

 

Furthermore, as we have already said, the analogy with gas molecules actually destroys the possibility of a fascistic ‘over-class’ since, for every molecule, its time to act oddly will inevitably come. This is in fact an established law in thermodynamics, known as the principle of ergodicity. Ergodicity means that, given time, every possibility will be visited by every molecule, not just once, but an infinite number of times. A very small level of predictability is not a limit or barrier; unlikely does not means ‘impossible’ – it means possible. Given the primary significance of the open term [MAYBE] as opposed to the closed terms of  [YES] and [NO] (which, as we said earlier, is how we differentiate between ‘fields’ and ‘particles’) we can see that all definite or positive assertions must be secondary to the possibility that the assertion is not actually true at all. This essential qualification pulls the rug from under rationality, and naturally it offends against our basic common sense, yet at the same time this ‘radical uncertainty clause’ is the source of all freedom. Without it the whole universe would grind to a halt: radical uncertainty is the hub around which everything turns, the lubricant that permits qualitative change (which is to say, the unproblematic succession of unconnected states). Without the [MAYBE] escape-clause that is built into every single situation that we ever encounter, limits become absolute, utterly impermeable; without the primacy of the radical uncertainty the universe would become terminally ‘neurotic’, trapped within its own preconceptions, unable to grow – a deterministic dead-end.

 

EMPTINESS

 

The idea of radical uncertainty as ‘the hub upon which movement in the phenomenal universe is articulated’ is parallel to the doctrine of ‘emptiness’ in Buddhism, which is explained by the Twelfth Tai Situpa as being ‘the basis which makes anything possible’. The Twelfth Tai Situpa, Pema Donyo Nyinche (1996, p 89) then goes on to offer a more detailed explanation:

 

Many people are confused by emptiness, but it is not such a difficult subject when seen from the point of view of figure and ground. Emptiness is the ground, and interdependent manifestation, samsara, is the figure imposed on the ground. In this way, emptiness becomes the reason why anything is possible.  It is the ground or space on which anything might be created, and is created: it makes the existence of samsara possible, and the attainment of enlightenment possible. The improvement of sentient beings is possible because of emptiness, and so is the activity of buddhas and bodhisattvas. Because everything is interdependent, when all the conditions are correct, anything can happen. Emptiness makes it possible for a sentient being who is suffering in samsara to also be a buddha by nature. When that being purifies the relative samsaric obscuration that binds it, then it is possible for it to become enlightened. None of this could be done without emptiness. If everything in existence were substantial and permanent, no one could grow old or learn anything; nothing could change, either for better or for worse; nothing could be improved, because there would be no room for it. This is common sense if you see emptiness simply. Emptiness provides the questions and the answers to all the questions, because it allows for movement and change. It allows for insight and realization.

 

 

THE NON-STATISTICAL NATURE OF THE INDIVIDUAL

 

There is a danger inherent in the ‘statistical behaviour of molecules in a gas’ analogy.  The unavoidable implication is that we cannot increase the proportion of ‘disequilibrium thinking’ that goes on in the population as a whole because to do this would involve reducing the amount of entropy in the population. Maybe this is true – it would certainly seem to be true in purely pragmatic terms – but the trap here is that we assume that there is no point in challenging equilibrium thinking. Taking the statistical view means we assume that each individual we meet is in fact a representative of the statistical norm, and write them off accordingly. This type of thinking is unjustifiable however, because it is impossible to treat a single individual on a statistical basis, and it is individuals who we actually meet, not masses. Every individual has the potential to surprise. You might think that I am bound to behave in a predictable way, but how can you know that? I might be waiting for that tiny fluctuation that will send me out of my established orbit, and it might be that you can provide that ‘kick’. There is no way to know whether our activity is going to be critical or not, and therefore the only course of action that makes sense is for us to assume that it might be, in each and every instance. We have to provide the ‘optimum chance’. Whether what we do or say makes any difference or not in the end, is not our responsibility.

 

Although it is undeniable that the statistical view is true in a sense (i.e. masses do not have the capability to surprise), it is also true to say that this view contains the potential for a dangerous fatalism and indifference to the fate of others. It is all too easy to say that it is Peter’s own free choice to continue subscribing to the conventional view of things, and therefore that there is no need to challenge his ‘equilibrium thinking’. Admittedly, the individual in question also chose to veil from himself his decision to exclude all other possible views of reality, but then (the argument goes) that too is his business, and so why should we interfere? The problem with this approach is that it is far too comfortable, and it takes away any need to feel bad about other people. Unconsciousness brings suffering; in fact (as Jung said), it is synonymous with the state of psychic distress, and the thing about suffering (if we allow ourselves to genuinely witness it in others) is that we cannot safely and reasonably remove ourselves from it by exercising some nice-sounding philosophy or other. If you allow yourself to be open to my suffering you cannot help being moved, and being moved means being involved – as if it were happening to you yourself. Packaging everything up into ‘me’ and ‘you’ is completely false and arbitrary in any case, and the only reason we do it is to avoid perceiving the reality of ‘the limitless whole’, the perfect symmetry of zero entropy, infinity information. We do it because we are scared.

 

SPOILING YOUR APPETITE…

 

We can conclude this discussion of esotericism versus exotericism by saying the following: The role of esoteric psychology is to shock, to challenge (or affront) my habitual and secure mode of thinking. It doesn’t challenge the details, it challenges the very ‘framework’ within which those details made sense. It threatens to take everything we know away from us – it tells us that everything we ever thought we knew was no more than a conditioned truth, a truth that only makes sense if we ignore the opposing point of view.  G. I. Gurdjieff, who invented his own, highly idiosyncratic system of psychology, used to say that his aim was to “Spoil your appetite for your favourite dish…” One might find rather absurd the notion that an esoteric system of knowledge necessarily has to be idiosyncratic and in conflict with established wisdom. After all, knowledge has to reflect truth, and truth cannot be ‘idiosyncratic’ in such a way – it has to be ‘the same for everybody’. The point is, however, that the aim of the esoteric system is not to support one fixed way of looking at the world, but to destabilize and destroy any fixed viewpoint. This means that it doesn’t matter what form it takes, really. This is made quite explicit in Chinese Buddhism, where in one school the doctrine is compared to a ‘fish-trap’: if the doctrine does not do its job, then it is time to build a better fish-trap! Being ‘trapped’, in this case, means that one is put in the position where one cannot help seeing that all ideas of the world are equally false – as long as one learns not to automatically identify with one’s mental projections, that is all that matters. The point, therefore, is not to get attached to the doctrine.

 

 

Esoteric psychology does not promise a more efficient way of living your life, or a way of being better able to enjoy whatever it is that you enjoy; on the contrary, it promises (or threatens) to take away everything that we ever held dear, to show up all our beliefs and assumptions as being utterly without basis, mere games (or conceits) in other words. Conventional, exoteric psychology, despite offering the apparent progress of experimentally validated ‘discoveries’, progress which ostensibly carries us forward on a wave of ever-increasing self-knowledge, actually takes us further and further away from ourselves the whole time. It does this precisely because it agrees with our underlying assumptions: what we welcome as ‘interesting new developments’ are therefore never more than variations on a theme, and the theme itself never changes, re-instating itself over and over again in its deadly tautological fashion. Here we have a straightforward instance of the principle of ‘self-maintenance,’ which is where a thing exists purely for the purpose of ensuring its own existence. Other examples would include multi-national corporations, countries, political parties, the psychological entity of the ‘ego,’ and – ultimately – the system of thought itself, which lies behind any particular example that one might think of. We will come back to this key idea shortly.

 

 

The underlying theme behind exoteric psychology is material realism: the idea that material is both fundamental and real. Scientific psychology necessarily operates through the unconscious identification with a set of assumptions, which then appear so utterly and completely self-evident that we never think to question them. This means that although its apparent function is to investigate its object in an impartial manner, its covert aim is actually to eternally re-instate the validity of these assumptions. The whole business is based upon ‘unconsciousness’, where unconsciousness simply means selecting the evidence to fit one’s argument, whilst remaining blissfully unaware the whole time that this is what one is doing. Therefore, exoteric psychology is not an affront or challenge to our habitual minds, but the complete opposite to this – it is a solace to our aggrieved prejudices, and a source of great satisfaction. Esoteric psychology, on the other hand, is a deadly poison to the habitual mind; the habitual mind knows this, and is very quick to protect itself just as soon as it starts to get an inkling of what is going on.

 

 

LIVING LIFE BACKWARDS IN DOUBLE-SPEAK WORLD

 

We pride ourselves on being a pretty smart species, but it hasn’t really occurred to us, collectively speaking, that we might be too clever for our own good. We are clever all right, but our cleverness is cleverness in reverse, it is cleverness that works against ourselves. Our cleverness is our trickiness, our dexterity at making sure that we don’t see stuff that we don’t want to see. According to his student CS Nott (1961) Gurdjieff used to say that “he is stupid who is clever”, and it is not too difficult to see what he meant by this. Gurdjieff also said that we see everything backwards, upside-down. When psychological denial (which is to say, self-deception) is the basis for activity, then this necessarily results in a fundamental insincerity, it results in a world dominated by a kind of Orwellian double-speak where we say one thing, but secretly mean the opposite. For example, ‘morality’ becomes an excuse for cruelty and inflexibility; ‘freedom’ becomes the freedom not examine one’s motives too deeply; ‘virtue’ becomes a way to ignore our true conscience; ‘religion’ becomes a way to feel good about oneself without having to make any inner change. The result of living in our minds as we do is that we give all our attention to the external form, the appearance, and totally disregard what lies below the surface. We observe the conventional forms, and think that this will do; basically, we identify ourselves with our shallow, theatrical descriptions of ourselves, and lose who we really are in the process. ‘Truth’ itself has become part of the double-speak – what we call ‘knowledge’ is actually an elaborate subterfuge designed to shield ourselves from truth, from the knowledge of radical uncertainty and infinite relativity. The secret function of our apparently progressive activity is to keep us safely stupid; our purposefulness is an act of psychological denial masquerading as a virtue.

 

 

Talk of moral duplicity on such a grand scale sounds deeply suspect to our cultured ears – it sounds too extreme.  A bit of a gripe about ‘the system’ is enjoyable to most of us, but when it turns into a full-scale revelation of global conspiracy then the time has come to have a talk with a psychiatrist! The matter can be stated as follows: our position is that the safe and comfortable ‘consensus’ view of reality is actually a state of psychological denial, that the ‘pay-off’ for seeing things in such a way is a phoney but convincing existential security. A representative of the consensus view might say that such a view-point also has a hidden pay-off in that it allows us to feel ‘right’ and ‘specially privileged’ and write off everyone else as being deluded, which would constitute a powerful psychological motivation because it counteracts the ‘insignificance’ felt by the individual in the face of the overwhelming mass of society. So which argument do we believe? Who is right? The answer has to take into account the key issue of the hidden psychological pay-off: no matter what my position is, if it secretly makes me feel good, then it is a false position. So if I believe that modern culture is Babylon, and Babylon is corruption incarnate, and that reinforces my story of myself as a ‘righteous’ person, then I am playing a game. It is my ego that is the secret beneficiary – I have aligned myself against evil in order to be good myself; I am being ‘good for a reason’, I am insincere, I am deceiving myself and others, and therefore it is me that is evil. Equally, if I believe that modern culture is the pinnacle of human evolution, and this makes me feel good, then that belief too has to be discounted as ‘denial of its opposite’.

 

THE APE OF GOD

 

But is it possible to perceive reality in a sincere or unbiased way, and if I do, what will I see? Will the world that my fellows believe in then show itself to be false or not false? This is obviously a question that every person must answer for themselves, since accepting the authority of another on this crucial point amounts to a complete abdication of personal responsibility. In such matters one should take the trouble to find out for oneself! What we are going to argue, however, is that the idea of corruption (i.e. wickedness passing itself off as virtue) is something that we cannot ignore in our discussion of entropy, because it is such an archetypal expression of entropy. A sleazy and crooked politician is presented as a man of great integrity, a natural leader, a friend and protector of the common person. The inferior and unworthy product is pushed forward in place of the genuine article. What we are talking about here is ‘degeneration’, i.e. the process whereby the true object is replaced by a counterfeit, which pretends to have the same qualities, whilst in fact the ‘qualities’ that is does have are mere distorted echoes, amounting to no more than a crude caricature of the real thing. This idea was used to define the principle of evil in medieval theology, where the devil was said to be ‘the ape of God’, and in the Gnostic branches of Christianity, where it was held that the mundane world was ruled by the ‘false Deity’ who had established a rule that was a kind of mockery of the God’s true world. If this all sounds rather far removed from the nitty-gritty of everyday experience, it isn’t. Medieval theology and Gnostic doctrine both provide an accurate allegory of a basic psychological truth, which we can state as follows: The function of the conceptual mind is to provide a analogue of reality, an analogue which cannot help being a crude caricature of what it seeks to represent. This in itself is not a problem – we need maps, and no one is going to insist that a map should contain an equal information content to the territory that it represents! Where the problem comes in is when the map substitutes for the territory, i.e. when the ‘system of thought’ sneakily passes itself off as the whole of reality.

 

 

We have defined psychological entropy in terms of basic deceptiveness, we have said that it is when I can no longer see that [+] and [-] are co-dependent, twin aspects of the same reality. Instead I see them as separate entities, so that I can have one, without having the other. It is entropy that allows me to think that I can say YES without implying NO at the same time. Now, the thing about a map is that I cannot read it unless I see [+] and [-] as being ‘not equal,’ the map would be utterly meaningless otherwise. This means that the state of mind in which the map makes sense, and the state of mind in which I can see reality as it is, are mutually exclusive – as soon as I adapt the seeing the Little Picture, I lose sight of the Big Picture; as soon as I adapt to a specific view, I lose the perspective that I would have needed to see that the specific view is arbitrary. Therefore, the substitution of the crude copy for the subtle original happens automatically, and the ‘automatic-ness’ of the process (the way it happens by itself) is the proper function of the psychological equivalent of the ‘second law of thermodynamics’.  In the next section we will start off by looking at the classic definition of entropy, and then we will see how we get on applying this principle to the psychological process of ‘identifying a known reality’ (i.e. comparing ‘Actual’ with ‘Expected’). This ‘comparing’ process is of course the basic operation of the conceptual mind.

 

 

SECTION [2]: THE PROCESS OF ‘IDENTIFICATION’

 

In classical thermodynamics entropy S, as we have already said, is defined as an increase in the predictability of the system under consideration. Alternatively, and equivalently, it can be defined in terms of a loss of information W, within the system. The famous (or infamous) second law of thermodynamics states that while the entropy of a closed system may increase, it can never decrease. It may, however, stay the same if there is nothing going on in the system.

 

The psychological manifestation of entropy, as we are now in a position to appreciate, can be defined in a number of ways.  In a direct parallel to the above explanation, we can say that it is a force which renders us ever more predictable, ever more ‘definite’. Assuming, for the sake of the argument, that we start off in life indeterminate and unpredictable, with no channels for our thoughts to run in, what happens then is that certain types of ways of describing the world we find ourselves in are reinforced over others. Rules (or dissymmetries) come into the picture. Basically, the process of psychological development involves us building up a logical picture of the world, and this internalised set of rules inevitably imposes a predictability upon our thoughts and behaviour, a predictability which has a tendency to increase the more we identify with our map (or model) of the world. The theoretical end-point in this entropic process is when we lose sight entirely of the relativity of our knowledge – we forget that we are acting upon assumptions and think that we have absolute (or ‘literal’) knowledge of what is going on.  In the following passage, Robert Anton Wilson (1983, p 39) makes this very point:

 

Before the first imprint, the consciousness of the infant is “formless and void” – like the universe at the beginning of Genesis, or the descriptions of unconditioned (“enlightened” i.e., exploded) consciousness in the mystic traditions. As soon as the first imprint is made, structure emerges out of the creative void. The growing mind, alas, becomes trapped within this structure. It identifies with the structure; in a sense, it becomes the structure.

 

When we reach this ‘end-point’ of passively identifying with our mental projections, then we have totally lost the crucial difference between the thought and the reality which that thought was supposed to represent. Organizational closure has set in: we project our map of the universe out onto the universe, and interact solely on the basis of what the map says is happening. The system reacts to itself, in other words – it reacts to its own projections, and this precludes the chance of a genuine relationship to life. Jung (1958, p 81), in his popular work The Undiscovered Self, expresses this hugely important idea with admirable clarity. Speaking of mankind’s great powers of adaptation, both psychic and technical, he goes on to say:

 

… This task is so exacting, and its fulfilment so advantageous, that he forgets himself in the process, losing sight of his instinctual nature and putting his own conception of himself in place of his real being.  In this way he slips imperceptibly into a purely conceptual world where the products of his conscious activity progressively replace reality.

 

Jung doesn’t explicitly link this progressive ‘slide into pseudo-reality’ with the law relating to the increase of entropy in a closed system, but this is clearly what he is talking about. In his discussion on psychic energy (Vol.8, p 1928) he refers to the production of conservative fixtures such as ideas, opinions, beliefs in terms of a straightforward ‘thermodynamic’ process, and observes that considerable violence is needed to destabilize them. Simply being confronted with evidence that is contrary to one’s belief is not nearly enough, and this is as true for scientists as it is for the rest of us, as Colin Wilson (1978, p 198) cheerfully points out:

 

…. Kuhn argues that once scientists have become comfortably settled with a certain theory, they are deeply unwilling to admit that there might be anything wrong with it. If small facts contradict the theory, they tend to ignore them. If the contradictory facts grow larger, they become distressed and angry. But they are totally unaware that there is anything unreasonable about this reaction; they feel that it is the natural annoyance of a reasonable man in the face of time-wasting absurdities.

 

Obviously, rigid ideas mean rigid behaviour, and rigid behaviour is predictable behaviour, and it is this ‘inevitable’ movement in the direction of increasing predictability that we associate with the second law of thermodynamics. The theoretical end-point of the process is where I am totally, utterly predictable; at this point I have no independent existence from your description (or prediction) of me! This is a ghastly thought – maximum PSI S means that I actually am your description of me. There is no ‘me’ apart from that!

 

The ultimate source of predictability isn’t the idea of course, but the framework within which that idea finds meaning. That is to say, we are not talking about the ‘theory’ that is governing the person’s purposeful activity, but rather the paradigm from which that theory arose as a natural expression. This is getting at the heart of psychological entropy: if everything I do has to make sense within a framework, then there really is no escape. Everything is the system, and this is total closure of meaning. Having touched upon this unpleasant idea, it is important to note that, in practice, there is always the possibility of unpredictability since the genuine (i.e. uncertain) universe cannot ever be wholly excluded. Reality cannot be excluded, since reality is all that there is! This is equivalent to Heisenberg’s idea of irreducible uncertainty, i.e. it means that there can never be complete closure, either within the physical universe, or within the domain of the mind. 100% S is an impossibility.

 

 

ENTROPY IS ‘HAVING AN AGENDA’…

 

 

As we have been saying, one way of looking at ‘human predictability’ is in terms of beliefs and opinions. The complementary way of approaching the matter is of course to see things from the outside in, which is to say, in terms of adaptation to a given set of rules. [This, we may note in passing, is the viewpoint taken by BF Skinner in the formulation of his theory of radical behaviourism.] The natural environment has a given structure to which we must adapt ourselves to in order to survive (as does the social environment, which is no less important for being of our own construction). An extreme example of adaptation, as Gregory Bateson has pointed out, is addiction: if I am addicted to heroin then my cognition and behaviour circles inevitably around the needs that are generated by this addiction – certain very specific rules enter my life and I have to obey them. Also understandable in terms of adaptation is the whole question of the inbuilt biological drives or motivations such as hunger, aggression, sexuality, and so on. Clearly these drives have biological utility because they direct us to interact with our social and physical environments in such a way that our potential for survival is maximized; the fact that ‘fitness’ is maximized indicates that the drives relate to given ‘opportunities’ that are afforded by the environment. Drives correspond to ‘needs’, the needs in question must match the opportunities on offer and thus what we are talking about is adaptation.  The same idea holds good for the social environment, social needs are conditioned rather than inbuilt, but the principle remains the same – what society offers matches what I want, and vice versa.  The needs equal the opportunities, therefore, and so insofar as adaptation has taken place, there is only the one system that we have to consider. There are not two sets of matching identical rules, only the one set of rules, where each rule refers to ‘something of importance’. If we start off by envisaging the set of rules in question as a series of notches or grooves in an otherwise flat surface, we can make the following set of linked statements:

 

[1] The notches can be thought of as ‘an agenda’ for the interaction that takes place.

 

[2] The agenda contains information that defines the relationship between individual and environment.

 

[3] Because information is the reverse (or reciprocal) measure of entropy, the agenda is also a measure of the entropy content of the system of {individual + environment}.

 

[4] The more possibilities of interaction there are between individual and environment (the broader or more inclusive the agenda is), the more information there is, and the less entropy there is.

 

[5] Maximum information is when the agenda is all-inclusive, which is more properly definable as    the situation when there is no agenda, i.e. no rules for interaction. Whatever happens, happens – all is allowed. This is when ‘everything is important’ so that nothing is especially important: everything is a notch, so there are no notches, and we are back at the situation of a perfectly flat surface, i.e. radical uncertainty.

 

[6] Given that a flat surface represents zero entropy, any deviation from this must equal a jump in the entropy content of the system, i.e. an increase in predictability. Since a flat surface is actually the state of ‘not having’ an agenda, it becomes apparent that the unevenness of ‘having an agenda’ means incurring entropy. Having an agenda equals a break in the symmetry of the situation.

 

 

[7] Although having an agenda is entropy, there are degrees within the state of having an agenda: at one extreme the notches are few and deeply scored, so that one gets ‘stuck in them’; at the other extreme the notches are many, and shallow, so that one can move between them with relative ease. The first extreme corresponds to ‘serious’ game-playing, the latter extreme to ‘playful or curious’ game-playing’.

 

[8] We can also see this idea in terms of the frequency of waves, as Itzhak Bentov does, where low   frequency oscillations contain little energy, and high-frequency oscillations contain great energy. The former corresponds to matter, the latter consciousness, according to Bentov.  An oscillating field in which the frequency is infinite is the same thing as a flat line, and this contains infinite energy. Bentov equates this with absolute consciousness. This accords with our definition of consciousness as the state of perfect symmetry (flatness), since when there is completely open interaction between individual and environment, there is no definition of either.

 

COMPULSIVE EMOTIONS AND THE SELF

 

Whilst beliefs and ideas about the world have the potential to be long-lasting influences for increasing predictability, we are also subject to transient but very powerful short-term influences, which can dramatically distort our thinking and behaviour, and render them extremely ‘pre-determined’. What we are talking about here are the ‘compulsive’ emotions, emotional states like anger, jealousy and desire which ‘compel’ us to act and think in specific ways. Generally speaking, we usually have a relatively broad outlook on life, and we are able to notice and respond to a wide range of unconnected sensory data; when in the grip of a powerful emotion like anger, however, the domain of our interest shrinks down to a very narrow band of concerns and as a result we are obviously far more ‘defined’ than we were before the emotion took hold. We will consider this point in more detail shortly.

 

 

Leaving aside adaptation, addiction and the compulsive emotions for a minute, it is of course true that the most fundamental ‘organizing influence’ of all is the ego or self. It is the construct known as ‘the self’ that determines the way we look at and interact with the world: to the extent that I am free of ‘myself’, I am unpredictable and ‘fresh’ (or ‘new’); to the extent that I am defined by the central organizing influence of the self or ego, I am tediously narrow and repetitive. As common experience shows, a person who is excessively dominated by this particular gravitational field becomes spectacularly boring and predictable: like a multinational corporation, all of their behavioural output comes back to the supreme agenda of self-interest, which is utterly deadening and sterile. Like an ad for a commercial organization or a party-political broadcast, we always know what is coming next, and so what is the point in listening? The self is just as compulsive as anger or an addiction, it is an ‘all-important’ rule that we identify with, and act out unthinkingly in our daily lives. The rule provides a basic order to the universe, a sense of security, and this is the pay-off. The downside is that we are cut off from everything and everyone else – we are apart from the universe, not a part of it.

 

 

What we are talking about here is the principle of ‘self-maintenance’, which as an idea is perfectly straightforward but annoyingly circular. The principle may be set out as follows: The point of all self-maintaining operations is to reach the goal state of ‘being the self’. ‘The self’ is 100% defined, and so the essential operation is to correct any deviations from this standard definition; in order to do this a cyclical process of negative feedback is needed, i.e. monitoring oneself constantly and comparing the information thus obtained with the stored information of how the self ‘ought to be’. Any difference between <ACTUAL> and <EXPECTED> results in corrective action. The self-referential nature of this information loop means that what we are looking at here is entropy again. All acts of definition (or ‘identification’) are synonymous with an increase in entropy because definitions always involve self-referentiality, i.e. any description only makes sense within the framework of meaning that allowed me to make that description in the first place. We have said that self-maintenance is an operation whereby a definition of ‘self’ is arrived at, and thereafter perpetuated; it is obvious therefore that the context within which the definition makes sense is of crucial importance to the whole process. In a more profound sense, then, the goal of self-maintenance may be said to be the perpetuation of the frame of reference that allows us to construct that ‘self’.

 

 

ANGER

 

 

We have said that being a defined self involves a tautological loop logic: My agenda is to be myself, but that agenda is in itself a manifestation of my self. It is also true to say that compulsive emotions involve an inherent (but not obvious) tautology. In order to see this hidden tautology, we have to consider the way in which compulsive emotions always have an unconscious agenda behind them. We can start off by taking the example of more-or-less conscious agendas: If I have an agenda when I look at the world, then obviously the world that I see is strictly limited – if I am a pick-pocket plying my trade in a busy street, then I don’t see people, I see pockets. All directed thinking involves agendas, just as all goal-orientated motivations (obviously) involve agendas. If I am trying to solve a problem, then that is my agenda; if I am trying to win at a game of chess, then that is the agenda. What is less obvious is the way in which compulsive emotions involve agendas, and the key to seeing the agenda here is to see that all such emotional states necessarily involve selective information processing. We can illustrate this point by considering anger: it is an easily testable fact that when I get angry with you then the only sort of things that I am going to notice about you are the very things that will serve to make me even more angry; I notice all the things I don’t like (which fit my angry viewpoint), and I don’t notice anything about you that I do like. This ‘picking and choosing’ of what I see is known as selective abstraction, and the same phenomenon can be found in any compulsive emotion. It was Aaron Beck’s observations of selective abstraction in his depressed patients that led him to develop his Cognitive Behavioural Therapy. Unlike conscious goals, however, this ‘selection of what I notice’ happens unconsciously, it happens as part of the process of becoming angry, or becoming depressed, and so on. Clearly, if it did not happen unconsciously – i.e. if I had a choice in the matter – then I would not have to see things in the biased way associated with the emotion in question, and so I wouldn’t be in the grip of a ‘compulsive emotion’. In general terms, we can say that when I am angry I have an agenda to justify (or exonerate) myself, and at the same time blame you, and as a result everything ‘miraculously’ fits into the picture that I (unconsciously) want it to. This is a basic dissymmetry (or polarity) here: I am ‘righteous’ and ‘good’, you are ‘wrong’ and ‘bad’, or, alternatively, I am ‘innocent’, and the world is ‘unfair’. We need hardly point out that there is a great amount of satisfaction to be had from seeing the situation in such black and white terms, and, furthermore, the way is paved for straightforward action. The tautology is that the anger is fuelled and maintained by the slant in perception which is anger in the first place. The hidden agenda of anger is to continue being angry.

 

 

JEALOUSY AND ANXIETY

 

Likewise, if I am jealous, then my agenda is to find evidence of your infidelity, and having a powerfully distorting agenda like this guarantees that my suspicions will be confirmed. Even if my partner fails to provide me with any evidence at all of extracurricular romantic interests, this apparent innocence would in itself be highly suspicious. The enhanced polarity, here (as in anxiety) is the polarity between the ‘right way’ and the ‘wrong way’ – there are two opposed ways for things to be, either my partner is faithful or unfaithful. The trouble is, when an issue like this gets too big, when too much hangs on which of the two alternatives turn out to be the case, then I have created a no-win situation because innocence implies guilt, just as safety implies threat. NO implies YES and YES implies NO. The same is true in anxiety – if it matters too much that a disaster should not happen, then even if the disaster doesn’t show any signs of occurring, NOT OCCURING implies OCCURING too strongly for me to be able to forget about it. Opposites involve each other – as we have just said, if I am stuck in the cognitive dissymmetry of full-blown jealousy, then FAITHFUL implies UNFAITHFUL, and so I can never be satisfied…

 

SELF

 

Finally, there is the central organizing principle of the ‘self’ which, as we have said, lies behind all these lesser biasing factors. In the end, everything that is purposeful (i.e. goal-directed) comes down to the self, because it is only in the self’s ‘reference system’ that goals find any meaning – this is the ultimate ‘hidden agenda’. The self is the primary dissymmetry, the Number One polarity – it splits the world into ‘me’ and ‘you’, ‘subject’ and ‘object’, or, in immunological terms, into SELF and OTHER. Like the strongly polar situations that we mentioned above, this split is a self-fulfilling prophecy, it becomes an issue that I can never get away from; it dogs me and haunts me, and it can easily end up grossly impoverishing and degrading my quality of life. One possible reaction would be to say “Of course my ‘identity as a self’ is an issue that I can’t get away from – how could it be otherwise?”  This question assumes that I really am the self that I identify with, but in fact the whole business of <self versus other> is based upon entirely arbitrary distinctions being drawn. As Alan Watts has pointed out, as soon as a line is drawn, there are the two sides to that line, the inclusive ‘in-line’ and the exclusive ‘out-line’, yet the point we forget is that we didn’t have to draw the line at all, really.

 

 

Identification is what creates a reified self – I unthinkingly accept a particular perspective on things, and from that point on everything I do and think has the secret agenda of validating that perspective. It is my action from the basis of being a self that allows me to go on believing in the fiction of that self. Identification may be defined as a sort of ‘seizing hold’, or, in chemical terms, as a type of ‘reacting’. The act of identification turns the arbitrary into the absolutely inevitable – the freedom goes right out of it, and it is in this loss of freedom that I find my satisfaction.

 

 

THE TAUTOLOGY OF IGNORANCE

 

We have already looked at the idea that a defined self is a loop of logic, and this tautology is inherent in all rules. If the government passes a law banning the recreational use of marijuana, and I get arrested on this count, then it is no good me protesting “Why should marijuana be illegal?” to the arresting officer because the answer comes back “Because it is against the law….” It is the law because it is the law. Similarly the purpose of the self is to produce and maintain that self. “Why?” doesn’t come into it. In fact the <why?> question is something that I necessarily have to avoid looking at, because if I looked too deep at it I would discover that ‘where I drew the line’ was arbitrarily chosen, and that would spoil everything. Structure depends on having some sort of absolute ground (or basis) to rest upon, it needs the support of unshakeable truths (or axioms) because it cannot hold itself together in the face of infinite relativity. This observation brings us to the idea that avoiding is also tautological – if I looked at why I avoid, then I would no longer be avoiding! Alternatively, we could talk in terms of ignoring. Ignoring is a tautological operation – I ignore because I ignore, if I didn’t ignore the fact that I was ignoring, then I wouldn’t be ignoring. The act of ‘ignorance’ and the conditioned (or ‘defined’) self go hand in hand, they are the same thing. We might even go one step further, and say that both are manifestations of entropy: tautology is entropy, and ignorance is entropy.

 

 

The reason we are able to say this is simple: tautology means ‘no new information’, which is to say, no surprises – i.e. entropy. Furthermore, there is the element of trickery that comes into the picture: although there is no new information, it appears as if there is – there is the appearance of a new development, of something that was not there before. This apparent development is known as quantitative (or trivial) change, and when we are ‘ignore-ant’ we cannot see that the change is illusory, and that it is the same old pattern all along. An example of this would be the expansion of an algebraic expression – a poor mathematican may be impressed when a new formulation of relationships appears like a rabbit out of a magician’s hat, but a good mathematician will see that it is the same thing, just said a different way.

 

 

THE SELF OF THE SYSTEM IS THE SYSTEM

 

We can at this point take the time to introduce a more rigorous definition of what exactly we mean by ‘self’. The ‘self’, we may say, is not an independent entity that uses a particular perspective to construe itself and its surroundings; rather, the self is nothing other than that perspective itself. Thus, the nominal ‘self’ that we perceive ourselves to be is purely an artefact of our way of seeing things – a ‘projection,’ in other words. Therefore, thinking is not my obedient tool, as I imagine, it is not a situation of ‘me and my tool,’ but, rather, it is a situation of ‘thinking, and its tool which is me’. ‘Me’ is only an artefact of the system of thought. This is not as strange an idea as it might first seem, as we can see if we consider the fact that what is included in ‘me and mine,’ and what is excluded, is the result of an arbitrary line that is drawn, and it is my perspective that determines where that boundary gets drawn. And yet, the crucial thing about being a self is that I need to feel that there is nothing at all arbitrary about the boundaries of the self; I have to be convinced that that these boundaries are an inviolable, God-given fact, a Primary Datum of my existence. If I am not convinced then the whole show will blow up in my face, I cannot carry on with the game once the secret gets out – it wouldn’t be the same at all. This idea is of course totally analogous to Professor Carse’s paradox which goes as follows: In order to play I have to freely choose to play, and yet if I am aware that I am equally free to play or not to play, then the game has no meaning. In order to enter into the game, I must necessarily veil from myself my ‘freedom not to play’ – which I have all the time, really. ‘Self-veiling’ therefore means ‘a drop in the information content of the system’, i.e. an increase in the entropy content of the system.

 

THE REIFIED SELF

 

The information collapse creates a reified self because it effectively removes any possibility of that self ‘seeing through’ the trick that produced it; because I can’t see through the trick the trick is ‘reified’ – the illusion becomes real. Beforehand I was not ‘anything in particular’ (the non-local self), after the information collapse I am precisely ‘something particular’ (the local self). I used to be undefined, uncontained, and therefore infinite, and now I am defined, contained and finite. I used not to be committed to a given format, now I am. I used not to be taken up and absorbed in particularities, now I am. And although the domain of ‘what is me’ is now so small, so petty, I don’t suspect that I have been short-changed in some way; I do not see what else there could be, it is utterly impossible for me to imagine how I could be more than what I take myself to be. We have here a direct parallel to Professor David Bohm’s theory of ‘mind as a system’. Bohm, after making a number of important contributions in realm of theoretical (quantum) physics, expanded his area of interest into psychology, and came up with an approach that is dramatically different to anything within the canon of established psychological ideas.  Bohm says that thought:

 

[1] Participates in producing a certain reality (or view), and

 

[2] Effectively obscures its own part in engendering this reality, thereby giving the thinker the impression that what is seen is independently (or objectively) real

 

Therefore, we think we control thought, but thought controls us. Another aspect of this two-fold action of thought is that the system of thought mistakes itself for the whole of reality, i.e. it cannot conceive of anything outside itself. Thought might be theoretically aware of the possibility that there might be something outside of itself, but it would never be able to imagine what that something might be. As we said before, thought is profoundly ignorant of its own ignorance; it has limits, but these limits are utterly invisible to it.  Ernst and Christine von Weiszacker (1973) call this ‘organizational closure’, and, as we saw, Amit Goswami speaks of a ‘central discontinuity’.

 

 

WHO IS THE REAL MASTER?

 

Although the information collapse that creates the reified self prohibits direct experience of the falseness of the reified self, this does not mean that we cannot have a good go at arguing the case for it being false. The argument goes as follows: On the face of it, there is this ‘entity’ which I feel to be ‘me’ – yet the real source of this apparent concreteness (or definition) is in the rules which I use to decide what is real, and what is not real. It is this set of rules which is the real master, not the puppet ego. There are, therefore, two levels involved here: the level we all focus on, and automatically accept as being ultimately real and objective, and the ‘secret,’ or ‘unconscious’ level of choices that are covertly made, of lines that are drawn and then forgotten about, in order to provide phenomena on the first level with their reified existence. The obvious reality is the actor, the agent, or the ‘executive’ (or ‘empirical’) self, and the non-obvious level is ‘the system’, which we are sublimely ignorant of.

 

 

Just to repeat ourselves one more time: the illusion that I labour under is that I, as an independent, self-existent ‘agent,’ control thought to suit myself. I am convinced that “I am the master”. The believability of this proposition is a direct result of how the system of thought works, this is the nature of the illusion it provides us with. As has been noted within the field of sociology (where the system of mind is sometimes spoken of as ‘ideology’), the system works by making us feel as if the opinions we come out with are really and truly ‘ours,’ when in fact they are merely internalised social biases, ‘rules’ that we have learnt, and repeat as if we are the origin, and not the recipient of. The feeling of ‘authenticity’ and ‘spontaneity’ is entirely convincing, yet it does not take much investigation to demonstrate that I am only the mouthpiece for the socially orientated certitudes which I come out with so happily. The values of the system only seem like my values because I have identified with them – they provide me with a spurious ‘personality,’ a character which looks like a manifestation of autonomy, and yet isn’t. The system has provided me with a ‘default’ set of values. This condition of not having an autonomous self (of failing to actualise the ‘true self’, whatever that might be) is the essential consequence of psychological entropy. We can equivalently state that psychological entropy is a measure of the adaptedness shown by the person, which is to say, it varies in direct proportion to the degree of congruence between the way the person sees the world, and the way in which society ‘expects’ him or her to see the world. 

 

 

One has to be careful here: adaptation might be taken to be synonymous with what is generally termed ‘social conformity’ but this is not so, since a societal rebel is every bit as adapted to the society he or she is rebelling against, as the ‘well-adjusted’ citizen is. The key factor is the irrelevance which social rules have for you, not whether you accept or deny them. Irrelevance does not mean that I studiously ignore them, but rather that I do not identify with them, and so the underlying assumptions are actually visible to me. When assumptions are visible, they lose their power to compel me, and therefore what we are talking about here is the freedom that comes with consciousness. We have already equated consciousness with the state of zero entropy, and so the next stage in our argument will be to generalize our definition of psychological entropy by suggesting that it is synonymous with what classical psychology calls ‘the unconscious’.

 

SECTION [3]:  PURPOSEFUL ACTION CREATES ITS OWN CONTEXT

 

 

 

What we are essentially talking about when we are discussing psychological entropy is a kind of ‘two-step’ action, a ‘one-two’ combination in which our attention is drawn to an overt movement, and so misses the covert shift that is going on at the same time.  We think that we have gained something, but, actually, what we have gained is an illusion, and at the precise moment we thought we gained that deceptive ‘something,’ we actually lost what we already had, which was real. This might seem, on the face of it, like a rather tortuous way to try to explain the mechanism of psychological entropy, but by now we ought to be in a better position to appreciate why we need to use an indirect approach. When we defined ‘the enemy’ (in an earlier section) as ‘the act of identifying the enemy’ we did this to prevent ourselves from being trapped in our own thinking. Actually, there is no enemy, but if we react to what we think is the enemy, then ‘the enemy’ automatically comes into existence, because the enemy isn’t what we think it is, it is actually our reaction to something that doesn’t exist. The reaction is real, and has real consequences, but that does not mean that there is a ‘real’ enemy out there. Similarly ‘psychological entropy’ is an indirect way of talking about the constraints that act upon me once I start to believe in those constraints: the limitations are pragmatically real, but they do not have any existence outside my thinking.

 

 

The ‘two-step’ action of psychological entropy can be explained as follows: Suppose that I ask what I think is a highly important and pertinent question. The act of asking this question seems to be, in itself, a major breakthrough – there is a feeling of satisfaction in it because we have defined the framework for ourselves, we now know the direction we have to move in. The feeling of satisfaction that comes with having ‘something to get our teeth into’ is the ‘illusory something’ that we think we have gained. What we have lost, without actually experiencing any sense of loss, is the freedom we started off with before we asked the question. The question (or the thought behind the question) is the symmetry-break: beforehand all directions were equally good (or equally bad), afterwards there is only one direction that is either good or bad (depending which direction you are facing), all the other directions being of no interest at all, and therefore totally invisible. Now, the familiar formula says that when all directions are equally good, this is the same as saying that no directions are good, since ‘good’ can only have meaning if something, somewhere, is ‘bad’. Therefore, the state of perfect cognitive symmetry, where all ways of modelling reality are equally valid, is actually the state in which no ways of modelling reality are valid. When all ways of looking at the world are equally good, then there is no way to look at the world. Zero entropy can be equated to the state of maximum inclusivity, where all rules are allowed; the only rule here is that ‘there is no rule’.  A symmetry break is synonymous with an increase in entropy, and this is what happens when we ask a question.

 

LIMITING THE FIELD

 

Another way to explain this is to say that asking a question has the effect of limiting the field. Now, there is nothing wrong with this – we have to limit the field in order to interact with the world. This is not all that we have done, however: we have limited the field [step 1], but we have also forgotten the fact that we have limited the field [step 2]. We carry on as if it were the whole field still, and for this reason we can say, without fear of contradiction, that the symmetry-break of asking a question inevitably results in a decrease in information W. If we still had awareness that the field was limited by our question, then there would not be an information collapse, but due to the ‘trick’ of entropy, we do not know that information has been lost. This is exactly what Bohm has said: Thought participates in creating the world we see and live in, but it erases all traces of its participation.

 

 

Physicist Amit Goswami (1997) explains this automatic information loss by using the example of a door-to-door encyclopaedia salesman. The salesman manages to get in the front door, and immediately makes you an offer: you can pay by credit card now, or you can pay in interest-free instalments starting from next January. On the face of it, you have been given a choice here, you have ‘gained in freedom,’ and so there is an automatic good feeling which is associated with feeling in control of the situation. Actually, however, you have lost freedom, because as soon as you get caught up in deciding between options [1] and [2], that means that you have lost sight of your ‘choice’ not to choose at all, which is to say, your freedom to tell the salesman to go away and take his encyclopaedias with him. Once you have accepted the framework of choices that the salesman offers you, then there is no escape from the trap; whatever method of payment you choose, the fact of the matter is that you have been suckered. Both option [1] and option [2] trap you equally.

 

 

The same is true for our example of asking a question: whether you get a [YES] answer or a [NO] answer the result is the same, because YES and NO both re-affirm the validity of the question that was asked – both answers implicitly confirm that the question was a relevant (or meaningful) one. Thus, the context of meaning that was assumed by the question gets taken as ‘real’, and I get well and truly snared by my own assumptions. This idea applies not only to questions and encyclopaedia salesmen, but also to all rational operations of the mind. My rational, conceptual mind is the encyclopaedia salesman – selling me a view of the world on the implicit grounds that it is ‘the only choice in town,’ when in fact I don’t need to choose it at all. As soon as I react within the given framework, I am lost, because I cease to see that the approach being taken is arbitrary, and ultimately irrelevant. As David Bohm says, mind can be encountered on many different levels – it manifests itself in the form of a social organization such as the family, as an affiliation of people linked by a common interest, a political party, a multinational business conglomerate, or society itself. On each level, the same logic works – as soon as you take the underlying framework of reference at all seriously, you lose the perspective that you would need in order to see that the concerns, values and goals of that system are not so universally relevant after all. In a democracy, we are offered a choice between various political parties. As soon as we taken this choice seriously, we lose the perspective that we would have needed to question the relevance of the framework we have been given; we can quibble over the details, but that doesn’t matter because we have swallowed the bait. Because we now have the spurious feeling of being in control, we haven’t a hope in hell of seeing that we have been taken for dummies.

 

SOCIAL ENTROPY

 

From the above discussion it is possible to see that society itself must be formed through an increase in the level of entropy – once we start seeing social rules as being at all relevant to ourselves, we lose freedom (i.e. detachment or perspective). What we lose is the freedom to be who we really are, since our psychological adaptation to the social matrix means that we understand ourselves in those terms which society has given us to understand ourselves with, whilst thinking that those terms are our own ‘tools for understanding’. This is what sociology refers to as the ‘social construction of individuality’. I lose out even if I win in the social game, because in order to ‘win’ I have to lose sight of my true self. By winning I lose, since the playing field was not of my choice, and winning condemns me to spending the rest of my time only within the bounds of this field, without even the freedom to realize that I am so constrained. In this sense, we can say that all my goals are subtle acts of self-deception, all my striving is ‘against myself’. This is parallel to the statement that ‘ideology works by causing us to enslave ourselves’.

 

 

We may live lives of great luxury and ease, own two houses and three cars, and yet still be imprisoned – in fact, as we have already said, the more we have ‘won’ in terms of the social game, the more imprisoned we are going to be. We are prisoners in the sense that our lives, like our thoughts, run in pre-determined tracks. By playing the social game, we have allowed ourselves to be defined by the game; by becoming adapted to the social world (as we must, if we are to interact successfully), we have become a faithful reflection of that world. What we gain is ‘success’ within the terms of the game, but what we lose is our autonomy and creativity as true individuals. Autonomy and creativity basically mean ‘unpredictability’ – which is a measure of the degree to which our lives and thoughts are not pre-defined for us by the system. If the life I live, and the personality through which I live it, are both constructs of the system, then there was never any real need for me as a unique individual to have been there – anybody could have done it! This notion of the utter ‘expendability’ of the individual is (as Jung says) implicit in mass society: if I allow myself to become so predictable that, in the end, I am no more than a reflection of the society in which I find myself, then I have not been born as an individual at all; my life has been in vain since I was never allowed to discover it. I was pawned off with a shoddy imitation of the real thing. Just as the predictability of a system is the same thing as the entropy of that system, so too is ‘social predictability’ the same thing as ‘social entropy’: there is a basin of attraction within the multidimensional space of ‘all possible ways to see the world’, and that ‘gravitational well’ is where we as individuals are statistically likely to find ourselves. This is a brutal manifestation of the ‘power of precedence’, which is nothing other than the dead and deadening force of entropy. As the old advertising slogan has it “thirty million people can’t be wrong…”

 

 

A definitive account of the essential action of social entropy is to be found in Berger and Luckman’s sociological classic The Social Construction of Reality, although we must acknowledge that the authors do not themselves mention the word entropy, preferring to use the term ‘reification’ instead. In the passage that follows Berger and Luckman (1966, p 106-7) explain what they mean by ‘social reification’:

 

Reification is the apprehension of human phenomena as if they were things, that is, in non-human or possibly supra-human terms. Another way of saying this is that reification is the apprehension of the products of human activity as if they were something other than human products – such as facts of nature, results of cosmic laws, or manifestations of divine will. Reification implies that man is capable of forgetting his own authorship of the human world, and, further, that the dialectic between man, the producer, and his products is lost to consciousness. The reified world is, by definition, a dehumanized world. It is experienced by man as a strange facticity, an opus alienum over which he has no control rather than as the opus proprium of his own productive activity.

 

It will be clear from our previous discussion of objectivation that, as soon as an objective social world is established, the possibility of reification is never far away. The objectivity of the social world means that it confronts man as something outside of himself. The decisive question is whether he still retains the awareness that, however objectified, the social world was made by men – and, therefore, can be remade by them. In other words, reification can be described as an extreme step in the process of objectifivation, whereby the objectivated world loses its comprehensibility as a human enterprise and becomes fixated as a non-human, non-humanizable, inert facticity. Typically, the real relationship between man and his world is reversed in consciousness. Man, the producer of a world, is apprehended as its product, and human activity as an epiphenomenon of non-human processes. Human beings are no longer understood as world-producing but as being, in their turn, products of the ‘nature of things’. It must be emphasized that reification is a modality of consciousness, more precisely, a modality of man’s objectification of the human world. Even while apprehending the world in reified terms, man continues to produce it. That is, man is capable paradoxically of producing a reality that denies him.

 

What we are looking at here is a sociological approach that exactly parallels the psychological approach taken by David Bohm (1996) in Thought as a System, which in turn parallels James Carse’s (1986) idea of ‘self-veiling’ in Finite and Infinite Games.

 

EMOTIONAL ENTRAPMENT

 

 

We have said that mind is a trickster, a ‘stealer of freedom,’ and we have said the same about society. We have also asserted, echoing Bohm, that society actually is mind, since everything thought creates is all one and the same system. In addition, we have further asserted that the compulsive emotions are of the same ilk, even though emotion is usually assumed to be of a different character to thought. We will now examine this claim in greater detail than we have so far. Not only is emotion usually assumed to be different to thought, it is often said to be contrary to thought in some way – we commonly say that those states of consciousness that are coloured by rage or intense desire are illogical and unreasonable. However, once one looks at the compulsive emotions in terms of ‘having an unconscious agenda’, as we did earlier on in our discussion, it becomes apparent that there is indeed a logic there. The logic involved is entirely consistent with the bias operating in the system, such that – given the governing dissymmetry that is there – all of the thoughts and actions that ensue are perfectly reasonable. That is of course why it is so hard to argue with someone who is in the grip of a powerful emotion such as anger, jealousy, or greed. Now, it might be naively argued that logic that is based on a central distorting factor which is invisible to the person using the logic is not properly rational (or ‘objective’) at all, but rather a mockery of true ‘reasonableness’, but as we have already argued, there can be no rationality without there being an unconscious biasing factor behind it. There is no such thing as an unbiased description of the world.

 

 

All of the compulsive emotions work by ‘limiting the field’; they can only work by limiting the field. Thus, if I want to hate you, I can only do this by not seeing those aspects of you that are incompatible with my idea of you as a rotten person. My agenda is to see you in this light. Now if I know that it is my agenda to see you in a light that allows me to go on being angry with you, then obviously my anger will disappear pretty quickly – anger can only do the job that we want it to if we stay safely ignorant of our part in creating the underlying polarity of good guy / bad guy. This two-stage mechanism is the classic manifestation of our friend psychological entropy. But what is the ‘job’ of anger, what psychological function does it serve? An evolutionary psychologist would answer in adaptive terms, he or she would be inclined to argue that all aggression ultimately exists in order to protect DNA. This argument is fine just as long as we stay within context of the ‘bio-survival game’, but anger can also be seen to serve a different and unconnected purpose, i.e. the purpose of shoring up one’s idea of oneself. This is a game too, but it does not necessarily coincide with the biological survival game since being constantly angry is not an asset in terms of ‘fitness to survive’. Anger does however serve a psychological function, albeit a ‘non-adaptive’ one: the function is that it allows us to go on feeling good about ourselves in the face of evidence to the contrary! We can continue to wallow in the security of feeling justified, and this means that we do not have to do any psychological work, i.e. question ourselves.

 

SULKING

 

The same is true for sulking: sulking is not adaptive from an evolutionary point of view, but it is from a ‘subjective-psychological’ one. It helps us avoid reality, and that gives us an immediate subjective pay-off at the cost of long-term difficulties – hence the expression ‘cutting off your nose to spite your face’. In the previous section we looked at ways in which we ‘act against ourselves’, and sulking is pre-eminently an example of this: on the face of it the sulk is an ‘innocent’ reaction on our part against unfairness on the part of the universe, but this is, of course, merely the cover story. The sulk imposes a black & white polarity of WRONGED versus WRONGER which subsumes all subtler nuances, and once this dissymmetry is in place the whole universe gets slanted to suit our agenda. Sulking is, therefore, a perfect example of a two-level manoeuvre designed to publicly exonerate ourselves on the one hand, and simultaneously shield ourselves from an unpalatable truth on the other. By going into a sulk (or by flying into a rage) we successfully avoid seeing what we don’t want to see; we get to act like a complete and utter ass-hole, and yet still have all the satisfaction of seeing ourselves as being entirely justified. The ‘attractiveness’ of such emotional manoeuvres lies in the fact that we get a pay-off without doing any real work, we get something for nothing (or so we think). The other option would be to suffer the discomfort of seeing ourselves as we actually are, which is the essence of psychological work – here there is no immediate pay-off, just the pain of registering information that does not agree with our convenient assumptions. The situation of EASY (e.g. sulking) on the one side and HARD (psychological work) on the other results in a tropism, directionality, and this statistical directionality is of course nothing other than the Law of Psychological Entropy. It is statistical because we do not have to take the easy choice; all the same, however, the odds are overwhelming that we will do, and so on a large enough scale of things it is the entropic movement that we see manifested, rather than the anti-entropic movement.

 

GOAL-ORIENTATED EMOTIONS

 

Another useful way to look at the compulsive emotions is to say that they are games. A game is a manoeuvre which is directed towards a known goal; that is to say, it involves definite rules. As we saw, in Finite and Infinite Games James Carse (1986) points out that all games necessarily involve a loss of freedom; obviously enough, we would not be motivated to achieve the goal if we felt equally free to attain it or not. This basic inequality is what we have been referring to as a ‘dissymmetrical situation’. In order to play, Carse argues, we have to veil our freedom from ourselves. This too is fairly obvious: if I am aware the whole time that I am only playing a game (i.e. that it doesn’t really matter if I win or lose), then I am hardly going to engage very well. This is not to say that I simply pretend that it matters to me – in a game of football, the players do not pretend that it is important to them to win, it clearly does matter. The reason it matters so much to the players that they win is that they have hidden from themselves the way in which it doesn’t matter. This is of course a ‘double evasion’ – not only must the players veil from themselves the fact that they are as free to lose as they are to win, they must also veil from themselves the fact that they have deliberately given up their freedom. We could make the observation that games always involve an increase in psychological entropy, but this would be to miss the point somewhat: it would be better to say that entropy equals games, and games equal entropy; this is in fact the best definition of psychological entropy that we can get.

 

 

We started off by saying that the compulsive emotions are essentially games. We can see that this must be so if we consider the fundamental dissymmetry that is embodied in such emotions; we are not so much saying that one outcome is not seen as being equal to the other outcome, but rather that one way of looking at the world is not seen as being the same as any other. This is familiar ground to us by now, and we will confine ourselves to two examples:

 

[1]        In the state of anger there is one particular way of constructing matters that supports the rationale for the anger. In order for me to take the anger seriously, for me to ‘throw myself into it,’ so to speak, I need to receive information that gives me grounds for it – I need to be convinced that I am justified in my anger. If I was not really convinced of this, then it will be impossible for me to get angry; uncertainty cannot support anger.  Now, the fact of the matter is that there will always be competing viewpoints on the matter – the world is not a black and white place and there are always many sides to every situation.  But, as we have just said, if I allow myself to see all possible sides to the argument, then I can’t be angry, and for this reason self-veiling must occur.  Now, we can either say that self-veiling occurs so that I can be angry, or we can look at it the other way, and say that I get angry in order to veil the truth from myself. Both statements have validity: there is reward involved in ignoring the truth, and there is also a reward in feeling angry. The ‘reward’ for being angry is perhaps not so easy to see – extreme anger is synonymous with feeling awful, since the profound lack of freedom that is involved in rage manifests itself as suffering. Yet there is nevertheless a ‘pay-off’ because this same lack of freedom also manifests itself as an apparently absolute framework of reference, which is to say, a way of looking at the world which is rock solid and utterly beyond question. This fixed viewpoint may reveal a repellent reality, but there is a hidden satisfaction in this; because the underlying framework of reference is fixed and unquestionable, so too (by reverse inference) is the ‘me’ that is constructed through this framework. The satisfaction in having a definite ‘me’ is a consequence of the law of psychological entropy; ‘work’ is avoided by cocooning oneself inside a definite context, and anger has the function of creating just such a context.

 

[2]        In anger the split is between <being justified> and <being unjustified>; in the state of intense desire (which has been traditionally referred to in the West in terms of Greed (Gluttony) or Lust, we may say that the basic dissymmetry is the one between <having>, and <not having>. These two situations are seen as being completely not the same, they are completely opposite, completely mutually exclusive. However, the reason that <having> and <not having> are so far apart is not because that split is a genuine feature of reality, but rather, it happens because ‘splitting’ is a function of the fixed framework that is generated by desire. This is not so easy to see: the difference between having and not having seems more absolute to us, it doesn’t seem arbitrary at all – after all, on the one hand you have a man with a million pounds in the bank, and on the other hand you have a man sitting on a park bench with no more than 30 pence to his name. I can’t change that by changing the way I look at it, otherwise we could all become millionaires overnight by the simple remedy of altering our perspective on the matter.

 

 

Despite the apparent ‘absoluteness’ that is involved here, it is still the case that we engineer the psychological situation ourselves, we set up the reality associated with desire for ourselves without realizing that we have done so. The dissymmetry that I have sneakily introduced through desire is the dissymmetry between <it matters> and <it doesn’t matter>. In other words, I engineer the situation where having money matters to me in the first place, and then I go on to forget that I chose for it to matter, which is the operation of psychological entropy. Sulking is an excellent illustration of this sort of thing: suppose my partner was going to take me out to dinner, but she phones me up to say that she has to work late, and can’t. Now, at that precise moment I have a choice over whether that matters to me – I am in an ‘undecided’ sort of a gap and I don’t have to react in any particular way. In order to go into a sulk, I have to decide to go into a sulk, and once I am in the sulk the increase in entropy means that I am unconscious of my own role in what has happened. I chose to react that way – I chose to make it relevant to me – and then I forget that I chose. The situation has been reified: originally there was only [MAYBE], which doesn’t permit any definite conclusions, now there is the split of the [RIGHT WAY] versus the [WRONG WAY], which forces my hand.

 

ADDICTION

 

Another, very obvious, example of ‘increased relevance through the operation of a compulsion or rule’ is addiction. Once I am addicted to, say, heroin, then the drug is highly relevant to me. It is more ‘relevant,’ in fact, than anything else in the whole universe! But if I was not addicted to the drug, then it would not be particularly relevant. In order to get from Position [A] of heroin not being relevant, to Position [B] of it being relevant, I have to make a choice, or, rather, I take a series of choices every time I use it. We can, therefore, define psychological entropy by saying it is the process by which I make stuff relevant to me, where before it was not. Another way to put this would simply be to say that psychological entropy is when I make an issue of things. As we said earlier, adaptation and addiction are closely related: Social adaptation means that I become subject to social rules, which render me predictable, whilst addiction means that I have to obey the rules inherent in the situation of addiction, which also renders me predictable. In both cases freedom is lost.

 

ENTROPY AS ‘THE STATE OF BEING DEFINED BY RULES’

 

This simple definition is useful because it opens a door and allows us to see that all psychological determinants (drives or needs) are manifestations of Ψ S (which we will henceforth use as shorthand of ‘psychological entropy’). Hunger, the sex drive, aggression, Adler’s ‘will to power,’ the need for social acceptance or recognition, social rules and regulations, are all ways in which Ψ S operates in our lives. This can easily be seen if we consider the fact that acting out compulsions always results in an increase in predictability, which is the classic definition of entropy. If I am an addict, or a sex-or-food obsessed person, then I am so much more predictable than I would otherwise have been. An extreme example would be severe obsessive compulsive disorder, where the person concerned has to enact very rigid and specific behavioural rules: such a person is approaching the not-quite-reachable state of 100% predictability, which would be when one has become a machine, or automaton. Neurosis in general can be seen as the process whereby one becomes more and more machine-like, which is to say, more and more unconsciously driven by rules of behaviour and thinking.  Arbitrary or ‘unnecessary’ rules which one cannot help but obey is what Ψ S is all about – basically, something is being made of a situation that need not be made of it. An extreme example would be when I, as an OCD sufferer, wash my hands six hundred times after coming back into the house, when of course I don’t need to wash them at all really. This is obviously an odd way to carry on, but it is only a question of degree that separates OCD from normal social behaviour: not too long ago all British subjects would stand up immediately upon hearing the national anthem and nobody at the time (or at least very few people) thought that odd, yet it is exactly the same thing. Similarly, if I am being formally introduced to you then the thing to do is shake you by the hand and say “How are you?” or “Pleased to meet you!” or something like that, but in reality there is absolutely no ‘need’ for me to do or say anything of the kind. We are not saying here ‘following rules is entropy’, but that following rules because one experiences a sense of absolute necessity about it is entropy, which is not the same thing at all.

 

 

Similarly, we are not saying that we should not have anything to do with other people’s neuroses, or with our own neuroses, or with society in general, but that we have the possibility of empathising with neurosis whilst knowing it to be neurosis, and of taking part in the world of social convention whilst knowing all along that it is just convention. The condition of knowing something to be true, and untrue at the same time is a liberating one, and it allows for communication. Only knowing that ‘the assertion is true’ and not that it is also ‘untrue’ (i.e. knowing how the rule matters, but not how it doesn’t matter) is the state of being determined, and it is all too easy to fall into this ‘informationally collapsed’ situation. It is to this danger, the danger of becoming a determined being, that we will now turn our attention.

 

SECTION [4]: THE STATUS OF BIOLOGICAL AND SOCIAL ROBOTHOOD

 

 

As with biological imperatives, so too with social imperatives – rules are rules, and it doesn’t matter where they came from! If I act out all of my biological compulsions, then I am defined by them, and the state of being deterministically defined in this way is a state of maximized predictability. Equally, if I am a person who unfailingly acts out social compulsions, which is to say, if I am wholly ruled by social convention, then I am defined by a set of social rules. This is the state of maximum social adaptation, which is a state that we have already examined in terms of Psi S.  Being maximally adapted is of course the exact opposite of being a unique individual, it is when you are a social unit whose values and beliefs are determined by external forces, by what Bohm calls ‘the system’.  I am not ‘I’, I am the system masquerading as ‘I’. There is a cruel irony here: the adapted man is a puppet who thinks he is the master, an imitation which takes itself to be the real thing.

 

 

It is worth re-iterating the point here that one cannot escape a rule by disobeying it, for this is no more than a ‘reverse compulsion’; if I faithfully enact a set of rules then these rules are positively defining me, and if a faithfully do the opposite, and GO when the rules says STOP, then all that is happening is that I am being negatively defined by the rules.  We can illustrate this principle by considering the subject of sex. The natural (or ‘uninhibited’) way of thinking about sex is to say that to have sex is ‘good’ – that it is something worth going for if at all possible. If I try to free myself from the compulsive quality of the sexual urge by saying that it is ‘bad,’ and something to be avoided at all costs, then sex is just as much of an issue as it was before, if not more of an issue. Because it is more of an issue, the result is that sex is much more likely to be on the mind of a person who is constantly fighting the sexual urge, than it would be otherwise. My life becomes defined by NO SEX, which is of course the same thing as SEX…

 

 

The same principle holds true for those who try to escape social convention by blatantly disregarding it. If I rebel against society, then I am still being defined by society, I have not gone beyond it. Normally social rules are relevant to us in the sense that I do what they say (or at least try to); if I do what they say I am not to do, then clearly, they are still relevant to me. In fact, there is no way to go beyond social determination by any purposeful change of attitude towards the social system. If I take society seriously enough to have any sort of attitude to it, then the dissymmetry is already in place, and I am effectively trapped in it. In other words, if it matters to me that it should not matter, then it matters all the more, and so I have not gone beyond ‘mattering’. I am stuck in the game no matter what I do – the game subsumes everything within itself, even the attempts to deny the game. The System subsumes all meaning within itself: the more I struggle, the tighter the noose gets…

 

THEATRICALITY

 

We have said something to the effect that Ψ S is the state of being unconsciously driven by one’s assumptions.  We could equally well have said that Ψ S is when we take games seriously, and forget the essential arbitrariness of their nature. There is a potential problem here because it is strange to us to see our day-to-day motivations in terms of games. It is not just strange – it is downright offensive! Offensive or not, however, that is what most of our interactions with other people (and our environment in general) come down to: all purposeful actions are games because they are based upon self-veiling, they are interactions that are undertaken from a false or arbitrary standpoint. One might object to this by saying that goals related to furthering the well being of our fellows, to give just one example, can hardly be categorized as being merely ‘a game’. Inasmuch, however, that such behaviour is conceptually mediated, that is precisely what it is. The point is not hard to demonstrate: suppose I as a therapist wish to help you as a client. Well, straight away we are starting from a false (or, as Carse would say, ‘theatrical’) basis, since there is no such thing as ‘therapist’ and no such thing as ‘client’. These are merely conventions, artefacts of my thinking, reified ideas. How can a false idea of ‘who I am’ be expected to help a false idea of ‘who you are’? In any event, my definition of what it means to ‘be helped’ is only a reflection of my unconscious assumptions, i.e. my ‘goal’ of what I see as ‘healthy’ is a total fiction. As always, I think that my thinking is my tool, but in fact it is the other way around – I am the unconscious slave to that thinking. The reality of the situation is that the only beneficiary of my actions is ‘the System’, since the secret agenda of all purposeful action is to covertly re-confirm the validity of the frame of reference from which that action arose.

 

 

In our all of our ‘purposefulness’ we live in the world of appearances, the theatrical world where it does not matter what really goes on, so much as what appears to go on. We live (almost) totally in the domain of the known, the unremarkable ‘equilibrium-world’ of thoughts and beliefs, and in order to do this we necessarily ignore any indications that there is anything more to life than the facade that mind creates for us. That is the rule of theatricality, which is the domain of Carse’s ‘finite games,’ where all possible meanings of actions are already mapped out. In the world of theatricality, all actions are offered up to be assessed (or judged) by reference to an assumed ‘context of meaning,’ and this context takes the form of a real or imaginary audience, of which I am also a member.  Therefore, it is important that I think I am helping you, and that you think I am helping you, and that the ‘audience’ in general thinks that I am helping you. As to what is going on beneath all this posturing, well, as far as that goes we are all completely unconscious – it can go hang! Theatricality, therefore, is a manifestation of Ψ S.  This is not to say that I cannot help you, or that you cannot help me, in a real sense, only that such ‘mutual help’ occurs as a spontaneous rather than a directed process. Real help does not occur through playing games, in other words.

 

SEEING THAT WE ARE PLAYING

 

There is one further point that we can make here. The whole trend of this argument may appear to be rather life denying, since we seem to be writing off our social identity along with our biological identity. To say that eating a meal, or going off to work in the morning, are only games would appear to be completely devaluing these activities. Are our lives only a pretence, a ‘show’ with nothing behind it? Is nothing that we cherish actually real? It should be apparent by now that this is not what we are saying – we are not saying that life is unreal, but that our ‘playing at life’ is unreal; we are not saying that the universe is not real, just that our thoughts about it are unreal. Our basic argument is that it is only through seeing purposeful activities as games, that we can exist as free, undetermined individuals. ‘Seeing through…’ means being able to see what is happening on two levels at once: Level [1] is where we see how it matters, and Level [2] is where we see how it doesn’t matter. This equivalent to saying that we see something from two angles at once: from one angle we see that it exists, and from the other angle we see that it does not exist. Logically, we have two statements: [1] It is true, and [2] It is not true.

 

 

The combination of ‘both truths at the same time’ means that I have insight into the relativity of my knowledge, which is to say, I see that it is meaningful only as long as I look at the world in that particular way. It is of course a paradox to have two competing ‘truths’ like this, but without this essential paradox everything collapses into absolutism: either I only see how ‘it is true,’ or I only see how ‘it is not true’, and both absolute views are equally false (or unreal). What we mean by this somewhat loaded word ‘false’ is simple enough – in order to subscribe to a conditional truth and so see it as an absolute truth, I have to both deny the other side of the story, and deny that I am denying it; this ‘double-denial’ equals unconsciousness (or entropy), and it translates into a basic lack of freedom. We can make a three-stage argument at this point to explain why ‘absolute has to equal unreal’:

 

[1] If I am unconscious then my mental and physical life is pre-determined

 

[2] Reality is in its essence free or undetermined

 

[3] My experienced (or ‘pragmatic’) life is therefore not actually Reality at all, i.e. it is something else apart from reality

 

What this ‘something else’ is, is simply a ‘tautology’ or ‘logic loop’, otherwise known as ‘the mind’ or ‘the system’; it is a game that passes itself of as a genuine necessity. A game is not ‘wrong’, it is in fact a natural expression of the universe’s ‘playfulness’, or, as Sogyal Rinpoche (1992, p 74) says:

 

Just as the ocean has waves, or the sun has rays, so the mind’s own radiance is its thoughts and emotions.

 

Problems only arise when the game is mistaken for ‘the whole of reality’, which is the state of unconsciousness or ‘passive identification’ with the mind’s projections. As Jung says, unconsciousness is ‘the original state of psychic distress’, meaning that passive identification sets up irresolvable conflicts that result in interminable suffering. The suffering cannot be eliminated because a game cannot escape itself.

 

THE DEAL

 

It is this point about us being ‘unconsciously identified with our own projections’ that lies behind Carse’s definition of evil as the situation where all meaning is subsumed within a finite game. If your life has to make sense within the finite game that I am imposing on you, then this represents a complete and utter denial of your true nature. Covertly controlling the meaning of your life is an ultimate form of violence – if I were just to knock you over the head with a pickaxe handle and keep you prisoner in a broom-cupboard, then that would be an honest act on my part – you could still try to escape. If, on the other hand, I cause you to imprison yourself by implanting within you a restrictive ideology, so that you take your slavery to be freedom, then this is a complete restriction since I have taken everything away from you. I haven’t even left you the freedom of your own mind.  If this sounds rather far fetched and unnecessarily dramatic to me, then that is in itself an indication that I simply do not have the mental freedom necessary to see the prison that I am in. Of course, there is no one person (or group of people) who are responsible – inasmuch as we are all socially adapted, we are all responsible for keeping each other (and ourselves) prisoner. This lack of freedom does not come about because it suits someone else’s purposes, we actually want it that way. That is the nature of the deal that we have made, that is how we get to be able to avoid knowledge of our own true identity.

 

AN ADAPTED INDIVIDUAL IS NOT AN INDIVIDUAL

 

If I am wholly biologically and socially adapted, then I have no existence as an individual, I only have the pseudo-reality that the system which I have adapted to grants me; I have to make sense in the system’s terms, in other words. When I am adapted it is all ‘musts’ and ‘have to’s,’ ‘ought to’s’ and shoulds’ – I am a slave, basically. If I go to work because I have no choice, then where is my freedom? If I live because I ‘have to’, then where is the dignity in that?  Just because I know that I don’t have to go to work doesn’t mean that I won’t, it just means that I know it is a game, and I choose to play it. Similarly, because I know that there is no absolute imperative saying that “I have to go on living no matter what” that doesn’t detract from life; on the contrary, it gives life back its meaning, for life is not a game. Life is unforced, it is not a tautology or trick. To say that the ‘purpose’ (or goal) of life is to go on living is an insult to life – why should living require a ‘purpose’? Only robots live for a purpose – to think that life should be, at bottom, a purposeful endeavour is actually a form of sickness, it is what we call neurosis, or, in other words, avoidance. When life is avoidance of death, it is not life!

 

The idea that the adapted person has no genuine life of his or her own is made quite explicit in David Bohm’s approach. Krishnamurti, too, was perfectly blunt on this subject, as we can see from this discussion in The Urgency of Change (1970, p 227-8) on the all-pervasive nature of conditioning:

 

…We are conditioned – physically, nervously, mentally – by the climate we live in and the food we eat, by the culture in which we live, by the whole of our social, religious and economic environment, by experience, by education and by family pressures and influences. All these are the factors which condition us. Our conscious and unconscious responses to all the challenges of our environment – intellectual, emotional, outward and inward – all these are the action of conditioning. Language is conditioning; all thought is the action, the response of conditioning.

 

Knowing that we are conditioned we invent a divine agency which we piously hope will get us out of this mechanical state. We either postulate its existence outside or inside ourselves – as the atman, the soul, the Kingdom of Heaven which is within, and who knows what else? To these beliefs we cling desperately, not seeing that they themselves are part of the conditioning factor which they are supposed to destroy or redeem. So not being able to uncondition ourselves in this world, and not even seeing that conditioning is the problem, we think that freedom is in heaven, in Moksha, in Nirvana. In the Christian myth of original sin and the whole eastern doctrine of Samsara, one sees that the factor of conditioning has been felt, though rather obscurely. If it had been clearly seen, naturally these doctrines and myths would not have arisen. Nowadays the psychologists also try to get to grips with this problem, and in doing so condition us still further. Thus the religious specialists have conditioned us, the social order has conditioned us, the family which is part of it has conditioned us. All this is the past which makes up the open as well as the hidden layers of the mind. En passant it is interesting to note that the so-called individual doesn’t exist at all, for his mind draws on the common reservoir of conditioning which he shares with everybody else, so the division between the community and the individual is false: there is only conditioning. This conditioning is action in all relationships – to things, people, and ideas.

 

THE PRINCIPLE OF EVIL

 

The law of psychological entropy stacks the dice against personal freedom, against true individuality; it means that we get pulled so far into our games that we forget that they are games. It would of course be impossible to get by in life without acknowledging those rules which are embodied in our social and physical environments; but if we use those rules as ‘absolutes’ with which to define the reality of our lives, then there is no possibility of creativity, or of growth. We get so engrossed in self-maintenance that the movement in the complementary direction of self-transcendence (or ‘radical change’) never gets to happen, and, as Carse, says, when finite games subvert the possibility of genuine (infinite) change then that is a definition of evil. The alchemists had a similar principle which they expressed in the idea of the ‘Old King’ who used to be a useful governing force before he became inflexible and harsh, if not downright wicked and despotic. At this stage the King had to be brutally dismembered and murdered, so that growth could take place, and the alchemists’ Work continue. This act of regicide sounds pretty wicked itself to us, and yet it is for the King’s own good, for he is born anew as a result of his murder. If, on the other hand, the Old King had been nurtured and sustained, then this would have been facilitating evil, because growth would have been thwarted in the name of the old ‘good,’ which is now no longer good but against good. ‘Growth’ (or ‘self-transcendence’) may of course be defined as that movement which takes place in opposition to the force of entropy, i.e. it is a movement that results in surprise rather than the confirmation of assumptions. This is not a matter of deliberately breaking rules, as we said before, but rather it is a matter of spontaneous change, an involuntary shift which results in the old rules becoming quietly irrelevant. We may also say that Growth is a change that is characterized by an increase in information W, which is to say, by the situation is actually developing in some way. This is straightforward enough in theory, but in practice it is not at all straightforward, since genuine development starts off appearing as a regression, or ‘as going nowhere’, whilst entropic movement appears at first to be a positive progression. What we are dealing with here is a principle which the philosopher Heraclitus drew attention to when he said something to the effect that ‘the essential property of the universe is to appear to be what it is not’. Psychological entropy is at root the principle of deceptiveness; it works by fooling us, in other words.

 

MOVING IN A ‘POSITIVE’ DIRECTION…

 

Earlier on we defined Ψ S by saying that it has something to do with losing information, i.e. losing consciousness. This, we went on to say, happens in a ‘double-barrelled’ sort of a way: We become ignorant of something, and at the same time we become ignorant that we have become ignorant….  This is still not the full story however – not only are we unaware of the decrease in information content that happens when we lose consciousness, we can actually feel as if we are moving in some sort of purposeful and positive direction. This is because purposeful action automatically creates its own context, without us having to feel that we are implicated in this. As we have said, directed (i.e. rational) thinking also counts as purposeful activity, and therefore a thought will automatically generate its own framework of meaning as soon as we think it. What this means is that before the thought occurred, there was no ‘need’ for the thought, but as soon as the thought occurs, it validates itself because, within the framework of meaning which it has created, it is a meaningful thought. This principle also holds good in the realm of socially defined meaning, as Berger and Luckman have pointed out. There is no need for the social equilibrium virtual reality world within which we live out our lives, yet when the thing is set up and running it is self-validating.  We are implanted with conditioned needs which match what society has to offer, so improving our efficiency at playing the social game (and meeting these needs) is obviously ‘the only way to go’. This is what lies behind the tremendous sense of ‘busy-ness’ and ‘purposefulness’ that we see all around us; it is all very exciting and absorbing, and as long as we don’t question what we are doing (which we generally don’t) it is all a very effective way of distracting ourselves from Reality.

 

 

Self-validation is the tautology which lies behind the process of reification, the invisible glitch inherent in the logic of ‘self-maintenance’ which causes me to go on and on endlessly re-iterating and re-creating myself, even in my misery. When I am miserable I seek a positive direction to head in, and this reflex guarantees the continuation of my misery; when I am happy I seek to perpetuate and consolidate and improve my happiness, and that ensures that the happiness will slip through my fingers. My attempt to improve myself, to move in a ‘positive direction,’ is what trips me up. The mistaken effort of trying to keep ‘moving in a positive direction’ is what the alchemists called ‘the way of error’ – i.e. relying on our own cleverness. The ‘True Good,’ on the other hand, happens by itself, and has nothing whatsoever to do with our machinations. It unfolds only when we give up the attempt to save ourselves.

 

ALL DIRECTIONS LEAD TO CLOSURE (I.E. TO NOWHERE)

 

Just to make this point about ‘movement in a positive direction’ a bit clearer, we can use the analogy of what happens when I stand on top of ‘the mountain of perspective’. This mountain ‘starts off’ at the apex where there is infinite perspective (or total openness), but once we move in any direction away from this apex, the degree of perspective available to us immediately drops away. As we move further down the mountainside we end up in an ever-deepening gully where the walls on each side rise up higher and higher, cutting off view of any other possible routes. At the top we were undetermined, capable of seeing in all directions, whilst as we approach the bottom, we get progressively hemmed in by our preconceptions.  At the bottom, we have no more freedom, but are irrevocably tied to our original choice of direction. This visual model will be recognized by students of developmental biology as being somewhat reminiscent of Waddington’s ‘epigenetic landscape’, which is here described by D. A. Ede (1978, p 92-93):

 

In his pioneering analysis of the relation of genetics to embryology in 1940, Waddington put forward a useful visual model of the developmental events leading to differentiation which he called the epigenetic landscape. It consists of a number of diverging pathways running downhill through a series of valleys, each of which terminates in an isolated location which represents a particular differentiated state. A ball, representing a particular cytoplasmic state, placed at the top of the landscape has the potentiality of ending up in any of the terminal locations but, as it rolls down and is deflected into one pathway or another, at each point of divergence its potential becomes more and more restricted until it enters a final pathway leading to a unique differentiated state. The process of restriction of possible fates is known as determination, and the cell in its final pathway is said to be determined.

 

Instead of an undifferentiated cell, we are talking about undifferentiated consciousness, and the main difference between the ‘perspective mountain’ and the ‘epigenetic landscape’ model is that, in the former, once one moves away from the apex into a particular furrow, then commitment to this way of looking at the world is total. This partition is inherent in the notion of the complex universe – if the various aspects (or facets) of the universe were logically consistent, then it would not be complex. In his book The Eagle’s Gift, Carlos Castaneda (1981, p 273-4) uses the idea of a tunnel rather than a mountain, and instead of speaking in terms of ‘maximum perspective, he refers to ‘the wheel of time’:

 

Florinda assured me that that very night, while we sat in formation, they had their last chance to help me and the apprentices to face the wheel of time. She said that the wheel of time is like a state of heightened awareness which is part of the other self, as the left side awareness is part of the self of everyday life, and that it could physically be described as a tunnel of infinite length and width; a tunnel with reflective furrows. Every furrow is infinite, and there are infinite numbers of them. Living creatures are compulsorily made, by the force of life, to gaze into one furrow. To gaze into it means to be trapped by it, to live in that furrow.

 

What Castaneda is describing here is an ‘ultimate vision’ of reality: reality as an endless array of possible views, none of which are essentially true, and each of which excludes awareness of all other views. The only essential truth is the truth of the tunnel, which contains all the furrows, and if you can see all the furrows, then you can see how none of them are true. The ‘force of life’ is entropy, i.e. the tendency for information to be lost.

 

 

To get back to the ‘mountain of perspective’ model, we can sum up by saying that the apex of the mountain is the position of zero-bias or maximum disequilibrium, where ‘all directions are equally good’. This starting off point is the position of maximum perspective, there is no ‘cognitive closure’ (i.e. ‘tunnel vision’) and my view is not obstructed by anything.  However, all I need to do is to take a step in one direction or another and I straightaway start to lose perspective. Whereas before all directions were equally good, now the direction which I am travelling in causes my viewpoint to be biased so that I can no longer see the whole picture (= max information content, zero S) and I only see stuff in terms of the particular stance that I am now taking. I can only see details insofar as they are relevant to the assumptions that I have had to make in order to see them, and this is the essence of self-validation. Movement out of maximum disequilibrium therefore means moving from a position of making no assumptions, and therefore seeing the whole, to a point where a certain set of assumptions have been made at the expense of all other possible assumptions, so that awareness of the whole is lost, and one becomes trapped in a partial, abstract reality which we take to be all that there is. As we have said before, the situation where no assumptions are excluded is the situation where no assumptions are actually made: when all rules are true, none are true.  No direction is the right direction. As the founder of the Guild of Assassins, Hassan-i-Sahba, says in one of Robert Anton Wilson’s ‘!Illuminatus’ novels: “Everything is permissible, nothing is true…”

 

THE PERFECT ILLUSION

 

Psychiatrist and consciousness researcher Stanislav Grof (1998), in his book The Cosmic Game, comes up with abasically similar approach to the one that is set out in these pages.  Grof arrives at the conclusion that there are two complementary ‘motivations’: the holozoic and the hylozoic. The first involves orientation towards the Whole, the second towards the part. These two directions of travel are not simple polar opposites, like ‘up’ and ‘down’, or ‘north’ and ‘south’, but are complementary because in order to focus upon the part it is necessary to exclude knowledge of the Whole. Conversely, when we do see the Whole Picture, we cannot help but realize that ‘the part’ that we took to be real only a moment ago, was actually only a function of our way of looking at things. Another way to put this is to say that when the exclusive view which we used to construct the part is swapped for the all-inclusive vision, we can no longer see that part as having any independent existence – it is shown up as being an illusion. Consciousness, Grof says, is the root of everything, and it possesses the perplexing property of being able to spin illusions with the greatest efficiency. The virtual reality simulations that it creates are so perfectly executed that the free consciousness behind it all gets trapped in the process, and takes its own productions as being a true objective reality. This corresponds to the description of ungrounded consciousness in the Tibetan Book of the Dead as ‘gullible energy’ which tends to identify with its own projections. Thus, the reification process that Berger and Luckman set out so definitively within the domain of sociology, has been proposed here by Grof on a universal (or ‘cosmic’) scale. In contrast to the narrow ‘evolutionary psychology’ that we touched upon earlier, what we have here is a ‘cosmic psychology’ which sees the essential creative process of the universe as being identical to the essential creative process of consciousness. Such a viewpoint exists in startling contrast to the prevailing paradigm of material realism, which up to now has gone virtually unchallenged.

 

SO ALL OUR MODELS ARE WRONG?

 

The suggestion that all our models are besides the point, utterly irrelevant to reality, tends to sound abhorrent to us. Generally, such suggestions are dismissed as insanity, or nihilism; because we cannot see beyond the finite (or ‘limited’) meaning of our game, we do not perceive unlimited meaning (i.e. infinite freedom) as being a blessing, but as an unspeakable threat. Meaning, for us, must come ready-wrapped in a neat package, or not at all; if it doesn’t obediently support the framework we use to interpret the world, then we see it as a deadly enemy. If there is a danger that it will throw doubt on our way of looking at things, then the automatic reaction is to strike out and obliterate it, with the heaviest weaponry that we have. That weapon is the two-step action of psychological entropy – the ‘final solution’ of unconsciousness.

 

The point about Bohm’s idea of the ‘system’ is of course that the system doesn’t see itself as ‘a system’, but as the whole universe.  A Marxist state does not see Marxism as a way of running a country, but as the way.  A Jehovah’s Witness does not see his or her view as one possible perspective, but as Truth itself.  The system cannot see beyond itself, no matter what it does – it does not allow the slightest space for considering the possibility that there is anything else. Why would it, if it already takes itself to be ‘everything’?  This property of closure, of setting arbitrary limits and then seeing these limits as ‘the edge of what is,’ rather than being a function of our way of seeing things, is the mark of psychological entropy.  One way to look at this is to say that entropy creates hard, non-negotiable limits. The other way is to say that it is the increase of psychological entropy that creates stable, defined, believable, but ultimately illusory realities. Actually, what we are talking about here is ‘the mind,’ in the sense of the everyday, thinking (i.e. rational/conceptual) mind. The conceptual mind is entropy. We can also relate the conceptual mind to what John Bennett refers to as ‘psychostasis’, which is where the basic viewpoint stays the same. The complementary, anti-entropic state of affairs is ‘psychokinesis’, which is where the viewpoint is constantly evolving and going beyond itself.

 

SECTION [5]: ‘ESOTERIC’ EXPLANATIONS OF ENTROPY

 

 

We will conclude by trying to distil out of this discussion some kind of ‘essential’ understanding about what we mean by the term ‘psychological entropy’. We have said that the essential executive operation of the mind involves deciding where to draw the line, where to make the ‘cut-off’ point, but deciding in such a way that there is no insight into the way in which it ‘didn’t have to be so’.  Mind is trapped by the assumptions it has to make in order to function as mind. The ‘trapping-ness’ of the process is the characteristic property of entropy: the system is defined, rendered progressively more predictable, and if I can never escape my own premises, what could be more predictable than this? If you cannot escape, then I can safely leave you in the knowledge that you are not going anywhere; if you cannot escape, then I always know where you are.  You can fly from airport to airport across the globe in rapid succession, changing your name and your appearance as you go, but if you are trapped in your assumptions then you are not actually getting anywhere. You are always there: stuck, static, obvious, going nowhere fast… In chemistry the word used is irreversibility – a process happens one way, but not the other. Gunpowder explodes, and in a fraction of a second the solid mass of the explosive is transformed into a vastly expanded heated gaseous mass; the resultant mixture of water vapour and carbon dioxide do not, however, reverse-explode (or implode) to create gunpowder again. Similarly, when we obtain order by imposing an interpretive framework, we cannot work backwards from the pattern of relationships that we have arrived at to get back to where we were before. The information needed to do this is no longer present within the system of mind – it has been lost. The action of entropy is seen by the drop in information content W of the system, but it cannot be seen from within the system, because the system has not got the diagnostic criteria necessary to tell that something is missing. Each time there is a drop in W, there is a corresponding drop in the capacity of the system to register this drop.  The irreversible process is the process of knowing ourselves and the world we find ourselves in:  we get to know about stuff, but as soon as we know it, we lose the ability to know that what we know is not really true. This is the ‘fall’ which caused us to be excluded from paradise, the fall is the fall because it is irreversible; it is irreversible because we cannot use what we have ‘learned’ to get back where we were before, which is what we automatically try to do, since we believe in the reality of what we have apparently gained – even if we don’t like what we have gained.

ENTROPY AS ‘DESCRIBING’

 

We can therefore point to a direct equivalence between entropy and the act of describing one’s self and one’s environment; even to make this distinction between ‘me’ and ‘other’ marks a jump in entropy. Describing is where we ascribe finite meaning to everything we see. Categorization, saying ‘what is’, is describing, it is ‘limiting stuff, and hiding from ourselves the fact that we have limited anything’. We lose awareness that there was ever anything ‘greater’ to have been limited by our describing, we become unconscious of that all-important deficiency. Therefore, we live in a simplified world of descriptions which we never see beyond. We inhabit a world of reified (and ultimately unreal) thoughts in which we ourselves are ‘reified thoughts’ – defined objects in a world of defined objects.

 

SEEING THE WORLD LIKE A CHILD

 

We can make a bit of a jump now and, dispensing with dry thermodynamic terms, speak of zero-entropy as the sense of uncomplicated wonder that a child experiences upon ‘being in the world’. Wonderment has nothing to do with description, it involves nothing more than an unprejudiced receptivity, which is to say, openness. Being naive in this way allows us to see sometimes that there is something very, very remarkable about the world; there is the promise there of something is so marvellous that it is literally beyond our imagination. This is the ‘gift of life’ that is promised in childhood, but which is for the vast majority of us never realized. This is the true tragedy of life. Eventually, our memory of that golden promise gets buried beneath adult cynicism; we write it off as a mere ‘childish thing’ so as to save ourselves from the irredeemably painful awareness of the way in which we have betrayed our own lost innocence. The truth that is so hard to bear is that we sold out life’s promise for the crass dreams of materialism, and the harsh sentimentality that goes with it. The words of the Pink Floyd song ‘comfortably numb’ sum this up well:

 

When I was a child I caught a fleeting glimpse

out of the corner of my eye

I turned to look – but it was gone

I cannot put my finger on

it now, the child is gone

the dream has gone

I – have become

comfortably numb

 

WE ARE THE UNKNOWING SLAVES OF OUR OWN DESCRIPTIONS

 

According to Carlos Castaneda, the insidious change from wonder to banality, the shift from mysteriousness to matter-of-factness that typically characterizes the journey from child to adult, is the result of the constantly re-iterated act of description which the child experiences at the hands of its adult protectors and teachers. Objects are described over and over again, until the description finally ‘takes’. Then, we get to believe in these descriptions of the world, and in fact we cannot ever escape from them. We think that they are the world.  The problem is, however, that our internalised descriptions of ‘who we are’ and ‘what the world is’ do not make us happy. This is easy to see – who are the happiest, children or adults? As adults we try to be happy of course, but our attempt to have a good time is usually something of a ‘business’ – it is not uncomplicated wonder that we want but euphoria, which is the type of pleasure that confirms existing structural commitment, i.e. to the notion of personal identity. For this reason, an adult’s search for happiness is generally a routine affair, a series of learned movements that results in a pre-defined ‘pay-off’. This is serious stuff, and quite the opposite of open curiosity, or playfulness.

 

 

The search for euphoria is humourless because we have put ourselves in the position where we need it; it is the unacknowledged reason for our existence, it is the currency we wish to be paid in. We endure the pain and the meaninglessness for the sake of it. The search for euphoria never takes us anywhere new, it sticks to the known, it is essentially a form of gloating – I dwell obsessively on what I have definitely ‘got’. However, by insisting so hard on defining what we have, we lose what was good in it, and the euphoria switches around and becomes despair. Euphoria is when we deliberately latch ourselves onto what we consider ‘precious’, and depression is when we find ourselves trapped in what used to be our treasure, but which is now revealed as a grim skull-face of black horror. The continual cycling between various degrees of euphoria and despair is what characterises normal adult existence. The reason for this being that we spend so much time in games, which means that we don’t see that the [+] of euphoria always comes hand in hand with the [-] of depression, that attachment always involves separation.

 

CARTOON CHARACTERS WHO THINK THAT THEY ARE REAL…

 

It wouldn’t be so bad if we knew that we were not really having a good time, despite all our efforts to do so, but we don’t consciously realize what we are missing. We are diminished in stature so that we are less than we ought to be, but, at the same time, we have also lost the capacity to know that we are less – we think that we are the same as we have always been. To use a crude illustration, it is as if I turn into a stereotyped caricature of myself one day – I turn into a cartoon! However, because I now have a cartoon character’s (diminished) sense of perspective, I don’t see the change. I don’t register the fact that I have become an informationally degenerate version of myself! Although this example seems rather absurd, it is a very common occurrence, for example, it is exactly what happens when we get totally drunk: we become stupid, but also, we become too stupid to actually know that we are stupid…

 

 

Brian Aldiss once wrote a short science-fiction story about a very old universe where entropy had set in so thoroughly that the charge on the protons and electrons that made up that universe had become depleted to a minuscule fraction of what they originally had been. Of course, the relative value of the positive and negative charges remained constant, and so nobody knew that anything had changed. People carried on as normal until one day an astronaut landed on a world that was composed of new matter, matter which was made up of ‘real’ protons and ‘real’ electrons. Needless to say, this encounter with freshly created matter proved to be a disastrous one for the hero of the story, who soon came to realize that he was more ghost than man…

MEANING EXHAUSTION

 

In a similar way, we could say that the ‘charge’ of meaning that life originally carried for us gradually gets depleted and dissipated – it fades and fades with each passing year. Our ideas and beliefs start off fresh and powerful, they galvanize us and motivate us to enact them, but as time goes on they get stale and boring. And then what happens is that we live out the established pattern of our lives, not because it is dynamically meaningful for us, but because of the force of precedence or habit; everything has become tediously familiar to us, it is all just the same old story, over and over again. Who can say that this has not happened to them? Of course, time still passes and this temporal flow naturally seems like a ‘progressing situation’ to us: ‘new’ stuff happens, and we live in constant anticipation of it happening, but actually whatever happens is only ever a variation on what came before. Everything is constructed with the same old ‘conceptual building blocks,’ and the only variety we ever get comes from trying to find new combinations of these basic units of meaning. When the perceived meaning in life runs too low we do notice it of course, and this is what we call ‘depression’ or ‘feeling blue’, but it is rare enough that we actually heed the message of depression, i.e. that the old structure has to go. This account of life sounds a bit on the bleak side, but that is because, up to now, we have been ignoring the counterpart to the law of entropy. Entropy is a one-way street and it just goes down, but there is another law at work as well. There must be, or all would have been up with us a long time ago! Before we look at what the complementary force might be, we will first examine the idea that the down-wards force of entropy (the psychological drive towards unconsciousness) can be seen in terms of avoiding ‘work’, and that avoiding work actually comes down to avoiding reality.

ENTROPY AS LAZINESS

 

In the most essential sense, we can see entropy in terms of the force of unconsciousness, just as M. Scott Peck has in The Road Less Travelled. Here, Scott Peck (1978, p 290) speaks of laziness as the force that acts in opposition to ‘spiritual growth’:

 

……Ultimately, there is only one impediment, and that is laziness. If we overcome laziness, all the other impediments will be overcome. If we do not overcome laziness, none of the others will be hurdled. So this is also a book about laziness. In examining discipline, we were considering the laziness of attempting to avoid necessary suffering, or taking the easy way out. In examining love we were also examining the fact that nonlove is the unwillingness to extend one’s self. Laziness is love’s opposite. Spiritual growth is effortful, as we have been reminded again and again. We are now at a position from which we can examine the nature of laziness in perspective and realize that laziness is the force of entropy as it manifests itself in the lives of all of us.

LOVE AS WORK

 

Mainstream thinking in psychology, as we have said, tends to be uninterested in the idea of entropy as a fundamental principle. The whole idea of a truly ‘fundamental’ principle or law just doesn’t fit because we have already decided that mind or consciousness is not fundamental. Equating entropy with ‘laziness,’ and inversely relating it to ‘love,’ is taking the argument even further away from the respectability of the orthodox view. However, what Scott Peck is saying makes perfect sense from an esoteric point of view; we find that we know exactly what he is on about. ‘Laziness’ might sound like a bit of vague concept for a psychologist to bandy about so carelessly, but when it is defined in terms of the ‘avoidance of work’ (where ‘work’ is defined as the assimilation of radical change) what we have is a very precise and elegant formulation of a fundamental (or ‘essential’) law.

 

 

To change is hard work – not in a goal-orientated sense, which is to say, in the work of striving to reach a defined state by known procedures, but work in the sense of starting all-over, starting from scratch with no body of precedence to rely upon. This second kind of work (the ‘anti-entropic’ work) is difficult because it involves coming face to face with uncertainty, it demands from us our autonomy.  ‘Work’ demands from us that we act with sincerity, from ‘the whole’ of who we are, and since this is beyond both our knowledge and our belief (since we are cut off from who we really are) this looks on the face of it like an impossibility. Anything that I can do from the stand-point of ‘me as I am now’ is work in the normal sense of the word, but from this stand-point no real Work can be done at all, since Work cannot proceed from a false basis. Work is therefore a movement in the direction of discovering truth, of ‘coming into Reality’.

 

WORK AS MOVING BEYOND ONE’S CONTEXT

 

Entropic work is effort which is undertaken from the basis of our established identity, and in the light of what we already know, and this is what we have been referring to as ‘goal-orientated behaviour’. Goal-orientated behaviour only has reality within the framework of meaning that is generated by itself, and this is why it is movement in an entropic direction – it seems to be movement (or change) whilst in actuality, it is not movement at all. To achieve the aims and objectives that I have in my head is entropic ‘pseudo-work’, to consolidate a pattern is entropic ‘pseudo-work’, and so too is the act of ‘making sense of things,’ i.e. rationalizing. The best way to differentiate between pseudo-work and real work is that the former always involves a feeling of satisfaction – the feeling that one is ‘getting somewhere’ or ‘obtaining real results’. This is a guarantee that we are getting nowhere because real work means moving out of the framework of understanding that we habitually use to make sense of stuff that happens to us. ‘Progress’ means ‘a measurable rate of change within the system of reference that we use to measure change in’ and therefore progress means ‘no progress’.

WORK AS ‘NOT REACTING’

 

Another way to differentiate between ‘work’ and ‘pseudo-work’ is by saying that reacting automatically is not work, even though it has visible results, whilst not-reacting is work, even though no one can see anything happening.  We can understanding ‘reacting’ in terms of a purposeful response to either a thought, or a compulsive emotion, or a compelling urge or motivation: As we know, purposeful action reconfirms the framework which it stems from, and this ‘positive feedback’ creates a world of reified objects pertaining to that framework; therefore, since we have defined work as ‘moving beyond one’s framework’ it follows that work must be the non-action of refraining from reacting, because this necessarily ‘un-validates’ the habitual context, and un-reifies all the issues that previously made sense within it.  This notion is a familiar one to all students of Taoism, where ‘not-doing’ is known as wu wei.

‘ACTING OUT’ VERSUS ‘REPRESSING’

 

Starting at the back-end of our list of < thoughts, emotions, and urges> we can consider how it would be possible to reverse entropy (which is the definition of Work) by not doing what we usually do (what we want to do). This basically comes down to feeling the pain or discomfort of the stimulus, without acting to lessen that pain. Normally, we escape the goad by acting it out (doing what the urge tells us to do), or by repressing it. Repressing it means that I create a counter force, I make a rule in my head that tells me not to do what the urge tells me to do. By concentrating on the [NO] I drive the [YES] underground, but I do not get rid of it. In fact, I am further from getting rid of it than ever because [NO] is the other end of the same stick, and I am holding that stick tighter than ever now. This amounts to ‘playing a game’, as we have seen, since both [+] and [-] are moves in the same game. Not escaping the pain of the urge means seeing ourselves suffering, and seeing at the same time that any attempt to escape the suffering will only serve to further perpetuate that suffering. Once we see this clearly, we are released from the compulsiveness of the situation, because we know that there is nowhere to go, nothing to do. At this point pain becomes conscious, i.e. there is no controlling (or squirming) going on, only an ever-increasing depth of awareness of ‘what is’. The suffering involved here can be said to be ‘open’ because it is actually taking us beyond the known, beyond the confines of our conceptual mind. Therefore, although there is pain, there is also genuine movement or change, and this movement is in the direction of Truth, which redeems the suffering. Unconscious suffering is unredeemed suffering, it is all about trying to find release, and being under the false impression that one either has a chance to do something about the situation, or actually is doing something, whilst the whole time one never gets anywhere. Needless to say, this state of affairs can continue indefinitely.

DEFINITION OF ‘CONSCIOUS SUFFERING’

 

The term ‘conscious suffering’ tends to attract the wrong sort of associations, being very easily confused with self-martyrdom, or the ‘self-controlling’ attitude that compulsively rejects any type of pleasure. Making an issue of suffering is not conscious suffering, because it reinforces one’s picture of oneself – it is theatrical (or ‘sentimental’), in other words. Rejecting pleasure is not conscious suffering either because rejecting pleasure ties one to pleasure just as much as seeking it does – the pleasure denier loses out on the satisfaction of the pleasure, but obtains the compensatory satisfaction of feeling virtuous.  As is the case with the sublime emotion of love, conscious suffering tends to degenerate into a mockery of the true thing, a corrupt copy that does harm rather than good. In actual fact, the pain of conscious suffering is a very subtle sort of pain: it isn’t suffering as we know it, but rather a type of frustration, being tied into ‘personal will’ – it is not that the pain is so bad, but that we have set our mind on something, and can’t have it. We don’t really need what we want, but we insist on it all the same. Sulking is a manifestation of the power of personal will: it is not so much that we need what we are sulking for, but that we cannot stand to be thwarted. In religious terms, therefore, conscious suffering is more familiarly known as ‘surrendering individual will to the Will of God’.

 

 

Finally, we can define conscious suffering as ‘undertaking a task that is beyond me’ – what I know is insufficient for the job that is in front of me, and therefore help (if it is to come at all) must come from beyond me. The opposite of this is ‘entropic work’, which is ‘undertaking a task that is equal to, or beneath me’ – it requires no qualitative change of consciousness, in fact it causes me to become more entrenched in my conceptual mind than I was when I started. As John Bennett (1966) says in volume 3 of The Dramatic Universe, Reality is Work. Therefore when I cease Working, I cease being in reality, and live in the equilibrium world of reified illusions, the place where ‘the thought equals the thing’.  This is another way of saying that consciousness (or Work) is the state of continual learning, continual change, whilst unconsciousness (or non-Work) is non-learning or ‘psychostasis’ – the state of being trapped in one’s ideas.

 

INTEGRATING NEGATIVITY

 

The common or garden compulsive emotions are likewise an opportunity for anti-entropic Work,. This is easy to see if we consider the fact that when we experience compulsive emotions such as anger and self-pity we are very much more likely to behave and think one way, than the other. Therefore, as always, Work means not doing what we want to do. Being insulted to the core is an excellent example of this: if I am subjected to a particularly cutting insult, then this means that my ‘tendency to react’ is at a maximum; I might react by angrily returning the attack (or by justifying myself in my own thoughts), or I might react by squashing my feelings and pretending that I don’t care. In the first case I am acting out the hurt, in the second case I am repressing it, and both of these alternatives are non-Work. Integrating the experience means feeling the sting of the insult and not trying to make myself feel better. I don’t blame the person who insulted me, and I don’t attempt to justify myself. Neither do I pretend that I am not offended, and actually seeing how I am offended is liberating rather than harmful, because the reason for my defensiveness is revealed to me, and so I am no longer driven by the compulsion to endlessly protect my false idea of myself. If there is the need to protect, then we are always talking about the false self – the false self has to be defended and supported because it is false. The true Self, on the other hand, does not need to be supported and cosseted and flattered, since it is already true!  Negativity, when integrated, teaches and frees us; it is only when it is not integrated that it deludes us and binds us.

NOT DESCRIBING

 

Finally, we can apply ‘not reacting’ to thinking, and in this case the Work is the ‘Work of not describing what I see in front of me’.  Earlier, when we talked about the transition from a state of wonderment to an attitude of cynicism during the course of normal human development, we said that the state of intense wonderment is perception in the absence of description or conceptualization; this state of mind can be explained via a ‘chemical analogy’, by saying that it is highly reactive, just as a single fluorine atom is reactive. This state of affairs is unstable by definition, and due to the propensity of structures to exist in ‘low energy’ configurations, a reaction occurs and an amount of energy is released that is in proportion to the degree of stability (or inertness) obtained at the end of the reaction. A sheet of steel metal is bright and silvery when it is first exposed to the air, but it rapidly becomes dull with rust, and this process of rusting or tarnishing is the visible sign of a change in the direction of increased entropy content (which is a backwards way of saying that there is a movement in the direction of reduced information content). ‘Not describing’ means not moving in this direction, it means going backwards up the irreversible entropy slope, i.e. reversing irreversibility.

 

 

Needless to say, this is extraordinarily difficult because the act of describing is practically involuntary: I see a chair, and I identify a chair…   The two elements of perceiving and labelling are in theory separate, just as ‘stimulus’ and ‘response’ are always separate, but I experience them as being one and the same thing. The very idea of seeing a chair, and not immediately categorizing it as such, is ridiculous. How could one reverse what one has learnt ever since childhood? If that were not bad enough, when we meet a reality that is non-ordinary, the urge to describe it is multiplied a thousand fold. If I see something exquisitely beautiful, the urge to comment on it (to somehow add to it, or provide a cognitive ‘over-lay’ of some sort) is virtually unstoppable. This is not entirely true – there can often be a moment of silent appreciation, caused by the sheer shock or thrill of the moment, but the ineffable aesthetic bliss of this moment quickly collapses into internal discussion and commentary. There is a reason for this: if I was to acknowledge that it is possible for sublime beauty to exist, and yet exist in such a way as to be totally irrelevant to me and my story of myself (my ‘categories of interpretation’), then this has the effect of rendering me and my story completely irrelevant.

 

 

Perception of beauty in this case is synonymous with the death of the self, just as the ‘experience of true happiness’ is synonymous with the ‘self-of-the-system’ not being there at all. Although marvellous and utterly fulfilling in a paradoxical way, this is also our deepest and most violently resisted fear, and therefore it becomes necessary that the transcendent experience be incorporated into the on-going story ‘about who we are’ and ‘what we are all about’. As Jung says, numinosity becomes processed and assimilated by the rational mind so that is no longer numinous. Then it is no longer a threat to our ideas, but a pillar of support, a central dogma. As Bohm says, everything has to be subsumed into the system, otherwise it can be seen as ‘not being the system’, and for the system to perceive that there is something which is not the system would be the death of the system. The idea of ‘not-system’ is the ultimate threat to the system, it is the ultimate (unmentionable) enemy.

 

LOVE AS ‘REACTIVITY WITHOUT THE REACTION’

 

Love too can be seen in terms of infinite reactivity. If I am struck by the ineffable pangs of love in your presence, that is true consciousness – I am seeing Reality. Yet, the overwhelming urge is to ‘do something about it’, to press this sublime feeling into the service of some or other agenda. The tendency is to use the experience to validate my ideas of myself and the world, to bring love down to my level rather than use it to bring myself to its level. I might go and write a pop song about how much I love you, and in doing this I unfailingly transmute the sublime into the banal; love goes into the trash-can of consensual reality along with everything else. Although unique, my experience has been rendered commonplace. This process of transforming the ineffable into the ‘effable’, of transforming Truth into bullshit, is the very essence of entropy, and we can see it in evidence all around us, all the time.   ‘Work’ here is simply to feel love, but not react. This is a type of pain, it is ‘conscious suffering’ because it is unbearable to be aware of such a great Value, and yet not act to secure that Value. However, if I do act to secure or consolidate it, I unfailingly destroy it….

 

 

The ‘Work of not describing’ means letting the universe express itself, without butting in and speaking on its behalf; I let you talk, I do not tell you what you mean because that makes you quite redundant, and this, as Carse says, is the operation of evil (or ‘entropy’). Similarly, the ‘Work of Love’ means letting you be what you are, without rushing in to control you, take you over, and ‘eat you up’. Love is the opposite of control because it means that I am able to appreciate you for what you are, as you are – I welcome the novelty of the experience, and the consequent the loss of my ‘self’. I am unreservedly open to whatever is there, and that is why love is a revelation of Reality. Normally, however, Reality is not a welcome guest and therefore instead of love we have its opposite, which is sentimentality, i.e. love of the idea of life, not life itself.

 

REMEMBERING WHO YOU REALLY ARE…

 

We can now conclude our discussion of psychological entropy by thinking in terms of forgetting.  We have noted that unless we ‘work’, in the sense that we have just set out, then there is nothing to stand in the way of the downward force of unconsciousness. We can extend this assertion by stating that this is the force that acts in direction of avoiding, obscuring, or simply ‘forgetting’.

 

 

Entropy, therefore, is forgetting, it is loss of consciousness: it is when we forget who we are and wrongly identify ourselves with a false (or game-playing) self. The reverse of entropy is consciousness, or ‘self-remembering’ – which is when we see through the game and remember what we forgot. Esoteric psychology has long acknowledged this principle of Self-forgetting, which lies behind so much of what we do. When we do not acknowledge this principle, then everything we do tends to become part of the on-going endeavour to avoid the truth, and even love itself ends up as a means of forgetting. Love ought to wake us up, but it slides over imperceptibly into sentimentality, attachment and pain.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 




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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  • Thomas

    You speak significantly of what is really truth and how truth can be found or realized. Should you not, however, consider that the concept of true verses untrue is a +/- polarity and that truth itself is only a possibility that does not need to exist or be relevant beyond your assuming it to exist and be relevant?

    March 8, 2014 at 1:35 am Reply
    • Thomas

      Just to clarify, I am not suggesting that perhaps nothing it’s true, but rather that the fundamental concept of truth, which defines both the [+] state of truth and the [-] state of truth’s absence (falsehood), is only relevant where it is assumed for context. The nature of things in general need not be defined in terms of truth truth at all.

      March 8, 2014 at 2:06 am Reply

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