Our default setting is that of machines for the gratifying of whatever impulses happen to come along. This being the case, if we have no curiosity at all towards what is going on and are only interested in the burning question of ‘how best to gratify the impulses’ then what this means – to state matters very bluntly – is that we are these impulses.
This is a most peculiar situation: I am not who I intrinsically am (i.e. I am not who I really am in myself) – I am merely the sum of all those random impulses that are momentarily utilizing me in order to gratify themselves. I am therefore no more than the means by which these impulses get to be acted out – or not acted out, as the case may be.
When I feel gratified, therefore, it is not I who am gratified but the impulses that are using me, and similarly, when I feel frustrated and thwarted, it is only the false sense of myself (which I have obtained by haphazardly identifying with the impulses) that is feeling frustrated or thwarted. The gratification or frustration in question doesn’t belong to me at all, really!
Likewise, when I am ‘hopeful’ it is the impulses which are operating through me that are hopeful, and when I am ‘anxious’ it is the impulses that are anxious, in case the need that they represent is not successfully met. When I am despairing or bitter it is because the impulses feel that they are never going to be gratified, never going to be successfully acted out. This failure is flatly unacceptable since the one thing an impulse can never ever do – since it is only a mechanical thing – is question itself.
The mechanical impulse has only two possibilities open to it, so to speak – either it manages to be successfully acted out in the world (in which case we feel good), or it doesn’t manage to be successfully acted out (in which case we feel bad). These two possibilities are therefore all that the impulses care about, are concerned about…
All of the afflictive mental states (the ‘lower emotions’) that we commonly or not-so-commonly experience are – without exception – due to the mechanical impulses that operate us not getting gratified, getting blocked or obstructed.
When an impulse is not gratified, when it is not acted out successfully, then what we call ‘negativity’ is the result. A toxic psychic atmosphere is produced. There is no good grace, only resentment, frustration, irritability, crotchetiness, anger, vindictiveness, spitefulness, bitterness, sourness, sulkiness, ‘moodiness’, and so on.
Most of our suffering comes down to this – the inability (for whatever reason) to act out the impulses that are utilizing us, our failure to obey the mechanical impulses that are controlling us for their own ends…
Our usual way of trying to deal with this suffering is of course to try as hard as we can to fix the problem. We bring all of our available resources to bear on the vexed question of why we can’t gratify the impulses that are controlling us and do our level best to find a solution. This way we hope to either minimize, or if we can, eradicate entirely, the suffering that we are going through. And at the back of our minds we entertain the unrealistic notion that, if we play our cards right, we will be able to solve these problems ‘once and for all’, so that we might one day be able to act out ever single impulse that takes control of us without anything getting in the way. This – for us – would constitute the ultimately desirable situation! Anything better than this, we simply aren’t be able to imagine….
For the conditioned self, the situation where it is always able to successfully obey its ‘conditions’ is nothing less than paradise. Anything better than this, as we have said, is utterly impossible for it to imagine. Such is the life of the conditioned self – it can never see beyond the prospect of being able to successfully gratify the impulses that control it, the mechanical impulses that govern its existence. Beyond this, it does not care…
The ‘impulses’ that we are talking about here define and determine more about us that we might imagine. It is not just certain behaviours that we compelled to enact, and which we feel bad about if we are unable to enact. These mechanical impulses (or rules) also determine how we see the world, how we understand the world. The specific way that we have of seeing or understanding the world is, therefore, the result or outcome of us successfully obeying whatever impulses it is that happen to be controlling our thinking.
That there is indeed ‘gratification’ involved here is clear when we consider the well-known fact that if information is discovered that supports my theory about the world, my belief about the world, then I straightaway feel good!
If it happened to be the case that I had a different theory, a different belief, and I came across evidence that supported that theory or belief, then – needless to say – I would feel equally good, equally gratified about this! If I can obey the impulses that govern my thinking about the world then I feel good in myself, and if I can’t then I feel correspondingly bad. If for example you come along and you say something that contradicts my opinion, my ideas, my belief, my world-view etc then I will be unhappy about this.
If I can convince you that my view is the correct one then I will feel vindicated and all will be well again, and if I can’t – which is usually the case – then what I will do is form a condemnatory view of you based upon the falseness of your view, and expressing my view that you are wrong in your view will provide me with satisfaction! Even if I don’t say that you’re wrong out loud I will think it and this will still bring me satisfaction. So even if I can’t change your outlook to make it like mine I can still evaluate your belief as being wrong and this is equally gratifying for me.
It may of course happen that you will be persuasive enough (or forceful enough) to get me to see my viewpoint as being ‘wrong’, in which case I will abandon it and – in all probability – go along with what you see as right instead. But nothing has really changed – I am still being controlled by mechanical impulses, only by stronger or more effective ones this time. All that has happened is that one set of impulses have been replaced by another.
What happens in practice of course is that certain powerful sets of allied impulses ‘battle it out’ to see which can control or determine or define the most people. What we call ‘culture’ therefore is the outcome of this battle – it is a way of talking about the dominant set of allied impulses, or rather, the equilibrium condition that is set up or brought about by these collectively validated ‘rules for how to see the world’. We think of this equilibrium situation as being our culture or our social system, as if we made it, but the reality is that it makes us…
The point that we’re getting at here in all this is that we don’t really have any freedom at all – not in the supposed privacy of our own heads, nor in the collective template for ‘how to live life’ that we call ‘culture’ or ‘society’. Freedom there is none and the fact that we think we have plenty of it is merely a mark of our foolishness, of our spectacular ‘insightlessness’. Our true situation is that of ‘impulses, impulses, impulses all the way’.
Our true situation, far from being free, is one of ‘rules, rules, rules, all the way.’ Or we could also say that it is ‘memes, memes, memes all the way’. Whether we talk in terms of ‘impulses’, ‘rules’ or ‘memes’ no difference at all; the crucial point is that they are all mechanical in their nature, and being controlled or defined by some mechanical factor means one thing and one thing only – it means that our ‘awareness’ is mechanical, that our emotions are mechanical, that our lives are mechanical…
But what happens in this case? What does ‘having a mechanical life come down to’? Suppose that I simply go along with it all, suppose I put all my money on trying as best I can to find a way of enacting all the impulses successfully, so that I will feel good more often than feeling bad, so that I get rewarded more often than punished? Suppose I become very skillful at that, very accomplished at that? Suppose I go along wholeheartedly with the surface-level impression that I am provided with, which is that ‘what the impulses want is the very same thing as what I want’?
What happens in this case is quite simply that I get taken for a ride. I get taken for a ‘strictly mechanical ride’. Saying that the ride I get taken on is strictly mechanical is another way of saying that there are never ever going to be any surprises in store for me – ‘mechanical’ and ‘surprises’ are two things that just don’t go together!
This is not to say that we can’t subjectively experience surprise in the ‘default version’ of life that unfolds when we allow ourselves to be operated by and defined by mechanical impulses, it just means that they aren’t really surprises, that they oughtn’t really to come as surprises. After all, what I experience as ‘happening to me’ when I’m in the default mode is only ever going to be ‘a mechanical or rule-based interpretation’, so it can’t really be anything ‘new’! How can I possibly say that something or other that my mechanical old mind tells me (some information that it gives me) is ‘new’, is ‘a surprise’? What kind of nonsense is this?
So what I subjectively experience as a surprise isn’t really, any more than it would be if I bought a used car from a dodgy car-dealer and the car turned out to be crap. When I am surprised, I oughtn’t really to be, any more than I ought to be surprised if I vote for a political party on the basis of the election promises they make and it turns out that they don’t keep them! This kind of stuff only comes as a surprise because I am dumb, because – for whatever reason – I don’t or can’t see the obvious…
All rule-based patterns of change – we might say – have an obvious aspect to them (which is the desired or attractive aspect) which is followed by the ‘not-so-obvious’ (or undesired) aspect, which still ought to be obvious enough if only we weren’t so short-sighted! This is like a pendulum swing: there is the initial displacement, and then there is the rebound. There is the step forward, and then there is the return. There is the thesis, and there is the antithesis.
This is of course nothing other than circular motion – the movement forwards and the rebound (or return) movement are both the very same action, which means that there is never any question of me actually getting anywhere. Because the movement is an unbroken circle this means that there is nowhere in it that is not the circle – and this is another way of saying that there isn’t any space in the system.
What we’re talking about here therefore is the most incredibly superficial appearance of change – an infinitely thin appearance of change that masks utter stasis, the grim stasis of the graveyard. All mechanical processes map themselves out onto a logical continuum and only onto that logical continuum – that is where they take place and nowhere else. Nothing ever happens ‘outside of the framework’, ‘outside of the box’…
The logical continuum is the domain in which ‘everything is defined’ and definition is of course the very same thing as ‘absolute restriction’. The simplest version of a logical continuum is an axis or ‘number-line’ and so the restriction that we are talking about here simply means that no matter whether we travel either up or down the number-line we’re still going to be on that very same axis.
Very obviously, we can’t leave the number line no matter how long we count for – even a supercomputer can’t count quickly enough to leave the number-line behind! We’re stuck in stasis – no matter where we go on the number line there’s always a bigger just ahead of us and a smaller number just behind us. We can move up and down the axis as much as we want and this never changes – the only thing that does change is the value of the number itself but since this is a convention that only makes sense from within the context of the number-line itself, that doesn’t qualify as genuine, honest-to-goodness change.
We’re trapped in the axis – no matter how far we travel either up or down we will always have [+] in front of us and [-] behind us. No matter where we go on the axis this is always going to be true. Once we see that it’s always going to be ‘one pole ahead of me’ and ‘the other, complementary pole behind me’ it becomes clear that I am being bounded by the two poles. It becomes clear that I am bounded by the two complementary opposites or extremes. [POSITIVE] and [NEGATIVE] are my limits, therefore.
The crucial thing to remember here however is that [POSITIVE] and [NEGATIVE] are (under the necessary disguise, so to speak) both the same thing. [+] and [-] both equal the very same thing – they both equal the axis!
[+] and [-] are the two ‘ends’ of the same axis and so they must be the same thing – neither could exist without the other, after all! This can also be seen from the fact that both poles are perfectly interchangeable – you can switch them around as much as you like and no on will ever notice the difference and so of course they must be the same thing! The only type of ‘progress’ in a logical continuum is therefore is where we ‘momentarily seem to have more of one opposite than the other’! And this is perfectly and utterly ridiculous, as everyone must agree, since the two opposites are really – as we have just said – one and the same thing.
The truth of the matter is that when we are in the ‘mechanical’ (or ‘conditioned’) mode of being we are stuck in some kind of a vibration – we are trapped in a never-ending oscillation between two nominally different poles or opposites, two poles or opposites which are actually not different from each other at all…
So when we act out mechanical impulses this is always what happens to us – we always get stuck in a meaningless vibration!
Within the vibratory pseudo-reality of the mechanical mind there is never going to be anything that could even remotely qualify as ‘a surprise’. The only thing that could happen that would be a surprise is if something happened that wasn’t part of the vibratory pseudo-reality, and that simply isn’t allowed to happen. That isn’t on the cards…
So in order to live in this realm, as mechanically-defined and determined beings, it is necessary to have the type of ‘short-sightedness’ which prevents us from seeing that the opposites are aspects of one and the same thing. It is an absolute requirement that we have the type of ‘foolishness’ which causes us to keep on believing the promise that the mechanical system repeatedly makes to us, which is the promise that we will be able to get more of the opposite that we like than the one we don’t like.
Or we could say that in order to continue ‘playing the tired old game of rationality’ it is essential that we carry on being ‘dumb enough’ (or ‘insightless’ enough) to believe the shop-worn and tawdry promise that our rational thinking keeps on making to us – the promise that if we ‘behave’ ourselves like good girls and boys and go along with what is required of us by the rules of the game – then one fine day we will be able to get ‘one opposite without the other’…
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.