Consciousness gets diluted down to homeopathic concentrations in everyday life – it gets diluted to the point where there’s virtually no consciousness left in it, but we carry on regardless…
This is rather like the Monty Python sketch in which a knight loses an arm in the course of single combat, but disdains to let this trifle put him off. He returns to the fray and loses the other, and then in due course both legs into the bargain as well. Even then he is game to continue, sword gripped between his teeth, demanding pugnaciously that his enemy come and engage him.
This is – we might say – is an example of a type of ‘down-scaling without knowing (or acknowledging) that we are down-scaling’. Something big and mean – the psychic equivalent of a great white shark perhaps – creeps up on me from behind and takes a massive bite out of me, leaving behind just the little bit that its gaping tooth-rimmed mouth could not accommodate. I however incongruously continue with whatever it was I was doing before the shark attacked, and ate most of me in that one savage bite. I carry on like a headless chicken running down the path. I carry on with my business, oblivious to the catastrophe, oblivious to the fact that all that is left of me is a pitiful, pointless remnant…
This down-scaled remnant of who I was (and the down-scaled remnant of life that goes with it) is really just a lost little echo of who I used to be, before I lost the best part of myself to the catastrophe. The remnant of who I used to be is like a faint echo of some other echo, which in turn was only an echo of a yet earlier echo, and so on and so forth way back into the dim and distant past. It is a reverberation which persists in memory of an original event which has itself long since vanished from view – an event that was erased from the record the moment it happened, in fact! All there is now is the faint reverberation, with no true understanding of what it is or where it came from.
There might possibly still be stories about where the reverberation came from. There might be legends, myths of a Golden Age, the Chryson Genos – a time of splendour and ease unimaginable to us, a time when wisdom reigned instead of folly, bliss instead of misery. In this connection Wikipedia quotes Hesiod’s description of the Golden Age:
[Men] lived like gods without sorrow of heart, remote and free from toil and grief: miserable age rested not on them; but with legs and arms never failing they made merry with feasting beyond the reach of all devils. When they died, it was as though they were overcome with sleep, and they had all good things; for the fruitful earth unforced bare them fruit abundantly and without stint. They dwelt in ease and peace.
The Golden Age can be described as being like this or like that, where such-and-such conditions, or such-and-such other conditions prevailed, but all of this is of course simply a metaphor because we can’t remember it, because it has passed away beyond recall. We could for example say as Hesiod does that people lived longer and that there was no sickness and that trees were in fruit all year around, but this is really just a way at getting at something when we ourselves don’t quite know what we are getting at. If we could remember what the Golden Age was all about then we would still be in it! In our clearest moments – which don’t come very often – all that we know is that we are missing something incomparable, something extraordinary, something that makes our current situation seem completely drab and impoverished – pointless even.
Much more often we don’t have any such memory at all but what happens instead is that the awareness gets mechanically transformed, which is to say, it becomes inverted. When the awareness or memory of what we have lost becomes inverted it turns into the antithesis of itself – instead of being something that reminds us of reality and leads us into reality it becomes an obstacle, it becomes something that seduces us away from reality and leads us into a deadly trap. When awareness of the whole becomes inverted it becomes an obsession – it becomes what Carl Jung called an ‘–ism’. Examples of ‘-isms’ abound – capitalism, Free Marketism, socialism, Marxism, Stalinism, Fascism, patriotism, atheism, philosophical positivism, and so on, – all of these are ideas that behave as powerful mental magnets which can very easily gain power over us and cause us to become foolishly fervent in their honour, as if they are somehow ‘more’ than just ideas, as if they are somehow going to lead us to salvation. In reality of course these ideas can lead us nowhere, except into pointless conflict.
It is not just abstract ideas that we are talking about here however, concrete ideas can become just as over-valent, just as powerful, just as magnetizing for us. The inverted memory of what we have lost turns into the whole diverse realm of what we might call ‘external objectifications’ – it turns into all the things in the world that attract our attention and cause us to experience strong feelings of desire towards. When this happens we might think that it is the material object itself we are attracted towards and not our own thoughts, our own ideas, but since we very rarely know anything except through our thinking, except through the action of our conceptual mind, this is not the case. And if by chance we do perceive something directly, without the mediation of our categories of thought, then what we perceive – naturally enough – does not lend itself to our games of like and dislike. The game of like and dislike – i.e. the ‘game of attachment’ – can only take place when what I like or dislike is a known object, when it does correspond to some mental category or other. We don’t have any truck with the ‘radically unknown’ because we can’t process it or integrate it without us being radically transformed in the process, and radical self-transformation – needless to say – is not on our agenda.
So we could say that when we have forgotten the true value, it gets transformed into a type of deceptive glimmer, a hypnotic shimmer or shine that attaches itself to the dull old things that we know – the tedious old elements of our experience that have been routinely manufactured by the categorical mind. When this happens then these otherwise dull and tedious old elements are mysteriously ‘enlivened’ so that they either become magically attractive to us or spookily frightening. They either attract or repel. Once this displacement of the original unattached ‘value’ occurs therefore we’re caught up in the never-ending game of duality; we’re signed up to play the never-ending game of yes and no, good and bad, right and wrong, success and failure, hope and fear, joy and despair…
Thus it is that when the Original Consciousness is diluted down to its present extraordinarily diminished state the whole business of living alters its character in a very significant way. Beforehand – we might say – it was all about ‘being’; afterwards it all became about ‘trying to be’. Or, as we could equally well say, it all became about ‘trying to avoid NOT being’ – which is a possibility that didn’t exist before duality came along with its opposed categories).
Beforehand there was no need to be forever reaching out beyond ourselves, reaching greedily for something which we don’t have but which we might have if we grab (and hold) successfully enough. Afterwards – not to put too fine a point on it – life becomes all about chasing things and running away for things. After the collapse life becomes an exercise in obtaining desired outcomes and avoiding other, undesired outcomes. This is a restless, driven scenario – a scenario in which things are never (or rarely) quite right, and so our constant quest is to make them so (or at the very least, to plot and plan, to dream and fantasize about making them so).
Sometimes it may be that things do actually seem right for us, and this is wonderful news, but even this happy result only serves to dig us deeper into our trapped pattern of behaviour. Being reinforced in our idea that ‘we can win’ imprints the game even more firmly into our minds and this belief is like rocket-fuel for the restless purposeful mind. And as well as fuelling our striving and our searching all the more, the belief that it really is possible for us to satisfy our dreams (and become ‘winners’ rather than ‘losers’) also fuels that characteristic assortment of negative emotions with which we are periodically afflicted when we are in the impoverished or ‘deficit-driven’ state of being.
Because of our firmly-held belief that it is possible to obtain and secure ‘the prize of our positive projections’ intense, corrosive desire is born. Anxiety and fear are born because we also believe unquestioningly that it is possible to lose or not gain the prize that we have set our hearts upon. Envy and jealousy are born because we think that it is possible for others to either have what we ourselves want, or be enjoying what we imagine we ought to be enjoying. Anger comes into the equation because the treasure which we believe to be rightfully ours might be taken by another. Despair raises its head because the possibility now arises that what we covet so much might be forever withheld from us. Bitterness and self-pity arise because we are now at leisure to consider how hard done we are as a result of our dreams being unfairly denied us.
This familiar unhappy terrain – made up of all the above emotions along with all the varies subtler shades of discontent and self-afflicted misery that lie in-between them – all comes into being because of the way that we imagine that the self’s ultimate consolidation, the self’s ultimate validation, is a totally real possibility – albeit one that generally seems to be tantalizingly out of reach! The fact that the dream – this projected ideal state in which I get to finally be allowed entrance into the promised land of unimpeded personal fulfilment – is the most preposterous and ludicrous load of old nonsense from beginning to end is an awareness which doesn’t ever seem to dawn on me. And the reason this deeply-cherished dream of mine is so utterly nonsensical is because the one who dreams it isn’t actually who I am! The one who dreams it – and suffers mightily for his dreaming – is the analogue of who I am, the ‘echo’ of who I am, the ‘false version’ of who I am, and no matter what I do on the basis of this analogue, this echo, this false version, I am going just as badly off at the end of my activities as I was at the start.
Trying to a remedy the inner pain of my incompleteness whilst persistently and very stubbornly coming at it from entirely the wrong basis (and no matter what my particular basis is it is bound to be the wrong one) is a good way of talking about the state of unconsciousness. We could also say that unconsciousness is when my awareness (or memory) of what has been lost has been inverted, so that it appears to me in the wrong place, in the wrong way. Or to continue in the same vein, we can say that the state of unconsciousness is a parody of consciousness.
The best way to illustrate this parody would of course be to highlight the differences between the state of ‘being conscious’ and the state of ‘being unconscious’. This however is not so easy to do since it is quite impossible to say what consciousness ‘is’. Saying what consciousness is would mean representing it in terms that the rational mind can understand, and this would of course involve downgrading consciousness into the mere logical analogue of itself – which totally defeats the object of the exercise!
We can all the same try to talk around the state of ‘being conscious’. We can try to get at it indirectly. We could say that being conscious is when I am potentially sensitive to all sorts of possibilities, potentially sensitive to a whole open-ended range of possibilities in fact. Not only am I sensitive to them, I am also able to respond to these possibilities – as they become manifest – in a way that is creative rather than mechanical. Once we describe what it means to be conscious in this kind of way then it becomes possible to see what the ‘parody’ of this situation would be, what the ‘degraded’ version of consciousness would be. The inferior analogue of consciousness must therefore be the situation where I am only able to register a specific and predetermined range of possibilities – where I am only ‘sensitive’ (using the word cautiously here) to those particular possibilities which my conditioning has prepared me to be sensitive. And in this state it is also the case that when I do recognize those possibilites which I have been programmed to recognize I am only able to respond (or rather ‘react’) in certain prescribed or predetermined ways. This mechanical state of being is therefore what it means to ‘be unconscious’!
Thus, consciousness is the OPEN situation whilst unconsciousness is a CLOSED one. In the first case nothing is predetermined or prefigured, and so anything that wants to happen (so to speak) can happen. In the second case nothing can ever happens freely – nothing can happen ‘by itself’, so to speak – but only if there is a precedent for it to happen, a pre-programmed set of instructions telling it that it can happen. In the degenerate or degraded analogue of consciousness the situation is that everything follows rules, everything is dictated by rules, and everything is decided by rules.
It is possible, by having a sophisticated system of rules, to convincingly simulate openness, to convincingly simulate the situation ‘where there are no rules’. A sophisticated simulation can pass itself off as not being a simulation at all, in other words. This, we might say, is the Principle of Simulation, which allows for the creation of an infinite number and variety of worlds that appear to be organizationally open but which are in fact closed. Furthermore, we may also say, there is no upper limit as to how sophisticated a simulation might be, and thus – as a result – how difficult it will be to see that it is only a simulation. There is no end to how plausible a simulation can be. However, no matter how sophisticated and how plausible a simulation is (even if this sophistication and plausibility is taken to the nth degree) it will never contain even the slightest trace of freedom. Just as a rule can never instruct us to be free (no matter what else it might instruct us to be!) a simulation can never go beyond simulation to actually become the thing that it is simulating…
Even when the robotic or mechanical analogue of consciousness that I am caught up is very crude however, this does not mean that I can see though it. In fact we could go so far as to say that no matter how crude the simulation is, the consciousness that is conditioned by the rules that make up the simulation does not have the capacity to ‘tell the difference’. No matter how crude or impoverished the game is, the consciousness that is trapped in the game does not have the perspective for to it to be able to know that it is in a game. Consciousness doesn’t have the perspective to see that it is trapped in a repetitive and meaningless game because games work precisely by ‘not containing any perspective’.
This is the most extraordinary thing to consider – it means that anything at all could seem to be true to me (when I am in the conditioned mode of consciousness) and I will have no way of knowing that it is not true. The game that I am trapped in could present anything to me as being real and I will have no way of being able to doubt it. When I am caught up in the simulation I will no way of being able the question that basic assumptions that have been landed on me by the conditioning that lies behind it. I am completely gullible, in other words, with respect to whatever delusions the conditioned mind-state might require me to believe in.
In one way the power that mind-created games have to effectively delude us might come across as being quite exciting – it might appear that there are lots of possibilities for different and widely varied experiences here. Stan Grof talks about this. It might sound as if what we’re talking about here is something like a fantastically detailed and astonishingly realistic ‘fair-ground ride’ – which is Bill Hick’s image. This is of course perfectly true – the only difference to a normal fair-ground ride being that it is so compellingly realistic that the chances are very much against us ever realizing that it is ‘only a ride’. It is a ride, but we are almost certain to be unknowingly trapped in it for an indefinitely long period of time.
What is more, there exists in the physical universe – as every student of thermodynamics knows – a pronounced and non-negotiable tendency for all closed systems to become more and more predictable, more and more ‘crudely rule-based’. This is the famous ‘second law’. All simulations are without exception closed systems (i.e. they are all devoid of freedom); this is the case – as we have said – no matter how sophisticated they might be. After all, no matter how many rules we throw into the mix, this is never going to add up to freedom! The consequence of all simulations being closed systems is therefore that all simulations – without any exception whatsoever – are bound to be subject to the second law of thermodynamics.
The consequence of all simulations being subject to the second law of thermodynamics is of course very obvious – this means that all simulations without exception are bound to degrade, degenerate and deteriorate over time, becoming with the passage of time ever more degraded, ever more degenerated, ever more deteriorated, and ever more removed from the original.
There is therefore no limit to how crude the simulation can get as it degrades, and yet at the same time – as we have pointed out – there is no way for the consciousness that is gullibly inhabiting the simulation to be able to tell that the whole set-up is inexorably deteriorating, inexorably becoming more and more of a parody of the original situation…
Put like this the whole business of being unknowingly trapped in a mind-created simulation does not sound like quite so much fun after all. In fact it sounds exquisitely horrific – it sounds ineffably horrific in fact. This isn’t ‘an exciting variety of experiences’ – it is really just the one experience, the experience of deterioration.
Unless I wake up to the entropic process then the simulation which is my life is going to keep on being replaced by progressively (or rather, regressively) cruder versions of itself, becoming ever more impoverished in content, ever more two-dimensional, ever more hollow and futile. In the end I end up, as Kabir puts it, ‘with an apartment in the City of Death’.
It doesn’t take too much imagination to appreciate the horrific nature of the proposition to which we are referring here. The degree of suffering is not less as a result of the fact that we don’t consciously know what is going on – unconscious suffering is many times worse than the conscious (or higher) analogue because we are split in two by it. On the superficial level we manage not to know what is going on but in order to carry on ‘not knowing what is going on’ we have to become more and more superficial in ourselves the whole time. We have to make fools of ourselves – and not only fools, but doomed fools. Doomed fools who are committed – whether they want to be or not, whether they know themselves to be or not – to the thoroughly unpleasant and irrevocably jinxed task of keeping themselves in the dark regarding what is really going on.
In unconscious suffering we conspire against ourselves, we conspire against the better part of ourselves. The low conspires against the high, the small against the great, and the petty against the sublime. In one sense we might say that this is the ultimate indignity for consciousness. Consciousness is being made a fool of – it is being forced (as Philip K Dick says) ‘to serve the wrong master’.
Bing committed whether we want to be or not to the ever-decaying ‘pseudo-life’ of the simulation means that, as the process of degradation inexorably continues, consciousness is being – in effect – cruelly or maliciously mocked by a principle that is infinitely inferior to it.
In the process that we are talking about genuine consciousness – which we know nothing, or next to nothing about, is replaced by a mere mechanical reflex. Despite the ‘gross’ nature of the substitution (which is, as we have said, more of a parody than an imitation) we ourselves have no direct awareness or intimation of what is going on – we only know indirectly, via the steady increase in the degree and weight of the ‘unconscious suffering’ that we are undergoing.
Whilst we cannot say anything about the consciousness that has been stealthily replaced, we can be very clear about the nature of the substitution. Instead of the true astonishing originality of the ‘original’, what we end up with is the endless mechanical repetition of crude pattern. The crudest version of all would be therefore the simple oscillation between UP and DOWN, IN and OUT, LEFT and RIGHT, YES and NO, and so on.
This sort of thing is familiar in psychology in the form of entrenched patterns of ‘self-comforting’ or ‘self-distracting’ that can occur when someone is in a state of great distress or fear. Because the mechanical pattern substitutes for consciousness (or ‘awareness’) we are effectively separated by this repetitive behaviour from the distressing awareness, which is of course the whole point of the exercise. Consciousness is escaping from itself, awareness is running away from itself…
When we start off in life we are still in the real world. It is readily apparent that small children are in the real world – it can easily be seen that they have not yet been occluded, that they have not yet been seduced away from life into some socially-approved and regulated simulation of it. The tell-tale signs of subversion start to show themselves in early adulthood. The shine starts to go out of eyes, or it appears less frequently. The effervescent sparkle of spontaneity becomes subdued – in time to disappear entirely. Duty and ‘seriousness’ replace fun and playfulness. Consciousness becomes diluted down to what is effectively only a ‘homeopathic’ level of concentration. We slowly become what can only be described as ‘horrendously dull’.
And then – as time wears on and spontaneity recedes ever further into the distance – we become ‘inferior versions of ourselves’. We become crudely draw copies of ourselves. We become parodies of ourselves. We become the parodies of earlier parodies.
It is as if we are imperceptibly transforming into dull old robots, predictably and pointlessly enacting some hideously tedious form of ‘mechanical pseudo-life’. And yet we carry on, we keep our noses pressed to the grind-stone. We see the dismal business through to the end. As the profoundly unconscious beings that we are at this stage, what choice do we have anyway?
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.