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The Grand Experiment

What happens when we allow ourselves to be totally controlled by a positively-defined reality? What happens when we let ourselves be totally determined by the Virtual Compulsive Environment? This – we might say – is the Grand Experiment, the experiment we are all involved in whether we know it or not.

The first thing to point out about this experiment is of course that we don’t know anything about it – we don’t know anything of the experiment that we are so bravely undertaking, and we wouldn’t have any means of understanding it even if someone were to come up and explain it to us. The reason we don’t know that we are engaged in any such experiment is because the Virtual Compulsive Environment doesn’t tell us that it is the VCE; if we were to be aware that our artificial environment were totally controlling or totally determining us then this awareness would of course constitute a degree of freedom from the system, and the whole point of what we’re talking about here is that there is no such freedom. The ‘experiment’ was precisely to get rid of this freedom.

The ‘Grand Experiment’ as an experiment in unconsciousness, in other words; it’s an exercise in forgetting. Or as we could also say, it is an experiment in being totally and utterly deluded! This being the case, therefore, we can’t really say anything about our experience so in this sense it isn’t much of an experiment – not in the classical sense of ‘gathering data’, at any rate. We know nothing and we don’t know that we know nothing and this is our starting-off point. It’s a perfectly legitimate starting-off point however – it’s ‘legitimate’ because it’s what actually happens! It’s legitimate because that’s actually where we do start off from, and what could be more ‘legitimate’ than this? The starting point for ‘the experiment that we don’t know to be an experiment’ is then a state of being in which we have completely lost any connection with our true nature, and do not know that we have lost connection. This is the state of true ignorance, therefore! It is a state of absolutely Pristine Ignorance…

The question we are asking here – just to reformulate what we have said at the beginning of this discussion – is ‘How do we ever get to learn about our true situation?’ How do we start to become aware of our profound ignorance? This learning process is by no means straightforward because we are existing in a kind of ‘mirror world’ (a kind of a ‘back-to-front world’) where what is true is seen as being false and what is false is seen as true. Our basis is itself false and so of course we can’t recognise what is true to be true – if I start from a completely biased ‘initial position’ then anything that contradicts the assumptions inherent in this position is immediately going to be written off as ‘false’. It will be discarded as error quite automatically. What I write off as being false is indeed false with respect to my starting point, with regard to ‘the way that I have been given to look at things’. This is what is called ‘relative reality’ in Buddhism.

We have been given the wrong yardstick right from the beginning and so far from standing a fair chance of ‘finding a way out of the morass of ignorance in which we languish’ we are only ever going to blunder deeply more deeply into it. Our very efforts to help ourselves are going to make matters worse; it’s as if we are in quicksand up to our chests and our unwise thrashing around is only causing us to sink in to the mire all the deeper. This being so (it being the case that our very instrument for making sense of the word is what is deluding and confusing us) we are bound to wonder how we are ever going to spot where the glitch lies? It’s rather like the situation of someone who has been brought up in some fundamentalist religious sect were all the world’s problems are seen as being the fault of Satan, and of all the unbelievers who are unwittingly doing Satan’s work for him. In this situation we somehow have to learn to question the one thing we are supposed – on pain of our immortal soul – never to question. We have to learn to question the authority that conditions us. In Jungian terms we have to learn that ‘Satan’ is our own shadow, and that represents a very big jump! We’re used to blaming Satan for everything, so turn around and see that ‘Satan’ is actually our excuse for not taking responsibility for anything is going to be a hard thing to do…

Another example of what we talking about here might be society in general. Society itself is a sect, society itself is a brainwashing cult (as has often been pointed out). It’s just that it’s a very big one and this makes it all the harder to question. This is the ‘Big Lie principle’. Society gives us the yardstick to measure everything by and so to gain the courage to go against everything that we have ever been taught and start looking at life afresh (on our own authority and not on that of the collective) is no small matter. It happens, but not very often – it is ‘statistically improbable’ that we will ever find the courage to do this, to say the least. We have to learn to ‘go against ourselves’ (or ‘work against nature’ as the alchemists put it) and this just isn’t something that ever will ever occur to us in the normal run of things.

But even given all of these difficulties, even given the tremendous odds that are against us, there is a ‘natural principle’ that will come to our aid. Even when we are ‘as lost as lost can be’ (and, as we said, this is where experiment starts from) there is still something there that can help us find our way home. The only problem is (so to speak) that the help comes from an ‘unexpected quarter’, and in a form that we do not recognise as being in any way helpful. The ‘help’ in question comes in the form of mental pain (or anguish) – mental pain that we reject and bury as fast as ever we can! Either we bury it (which equals ‘repression’) or we pass it on to someone else (= ‘acting out’) but either way we never stick around long enough to find out about it. Repressing or outwardly displacing the mental pain is how we ‘refuse the help that is coming our way’, therefore. We don’t know that we are refusing the help of course, but that’s what we doing all the same. It comes to the same thing, no matter what our motivation might be. Once we understand this point then that opens the way for us to avail of the help instead of rejecting it. We need to understand this key point first, obviously! We are not going to get anywhere if we don’t. All we need in order to avail of the help that is freely coming our way is to be sensitive to our own mental pain, and to be aware of our own habits of either ‘repressing’ it or ‘acting it out’ in some way. We don’t have to strain ourselves in the attempt to not go along with our pain-avoidance habits in the same way that we always do (which simply wouldn’t work anyway!) – all we need to do is to learn to be gently aware of what we are actually doing in our everyday life. We have to learn to stop being aggressive, in other words…

Only the slightest, most delicate touch of awareness is needed here – there is no need for us to go blundering in with a crowbar in our hand (or the psychological equivalent of a crowbar) hamfistedly trying to ‘put matters right’! This is what we find so very hard to understand – we are such great believers in psychological crowbars, psychological levers, and whatever other assorted bits of crude technology that we have cobbled together in the name of therapy. But we’re getting ‘over-enthusiastic’ here; as we have said, none of this is needed and far from helping matters it actually makes things worse. Bringing ‘force’ into the picture (in order to make the ‘right thing’ happen) just adds extra spin to the existing mess, it just brings extra ‘mechanical elements’ into a situation that cannot be helped by mechanics. We are not availing of ‘the help that freely comes to us’, but rather we are attempting to manufacture our own. Instead of eating fresh fruit and wholesome vegetables, we’re swallowing handfuls of industrially-produced vitamin pills! In our blind arrogance, we’ve taken matters into our own hands…

The ‘help’ that naturally and freely comes our way (and which has the function of returning us to ourselves) is the pain that we want to fix or correct and so just as long as our underlying motivation is to manage the pain or fix the pain (or do something so that we don’t have to feel it anymore) then we’re not allowing ourselves to be helped by it. A technical ‘taking charge of the process ourselves’-type of approach isn’t the same thing at all; on the contrary, this is what the alchemists called ‘via erratum’, the ‘way of error’. The via erratum is where we ‘get clever about things’ because we think we know what should be happening and we think we can do something to help bring that about. The other road that we can go down is the ‘via veritas’ (or ‘way of truth’) which is where we realise that the help we need comes from outside of us, and does not come about as a result of our own agency. When we ‘completely lost’ how can we save ourselves as a result of our own agency?

Our very great ‘reluctance’ in this matter is the reluctance to see that we are lost – this actually goes beyond mere reluctance and would be better referred to as ‘absolute obstinacy’. This ‘obstinacy when it comes to seeing that we are completely lost’ is the obstacle therefore, and as obstacles go it’s a remarkably effective one! All the need to do in order to appreciate this is to think about the way in which we as a technical culture manufacture ‘professionals’ in the field of mental health – as mental health professionals we are given this sense of ourselves as having this extra-special knowledge, this extra-special expertise upon, but how can this block-headed attitude be of any use when it comes to the via veritas, when it comes to us ‘acknowledging ourselves to be utterly lost’? We are adopting precisely the least helpful attitude here! It’s like coming up to a Great Mystery whilst being all officious in ourselves and full of ideas of our own importance, convinced that we know what we doing, convinced that ‘we know best’. If we have this attitude then what this shows is that we have scant respect for the Great Mystery (we don’t after all even acknowledge that there is such a thing) and instead of having respect for the profound mystery of it all we only have a respect for ourselves, we only have respect for our own so-called ‘special knowledge’.

Any mental health worker with actual integrity already knows this very well of course and so there’s no need to belabour the point! As far as society itself is concerned however (and as far as those persons produced by the system are concerned) the Great Mystery does not exist. The ‘collective mind’ – which is ‘the group mind that comes into being when we all unconsciously agree on certain key rules’ – there is no such thing as ‘the Great Mystery’. Profound irreducible mystery is anathema to the generic mind (just as it is anathema to the rational mind); if the rule-based mind were to acknowledge radical uncertainty then – naturally enough – this would be the end of it! The rule-based mind is the same thing as what we have called the ‘Virtual Compulsive Environment’ – rules, after all, can’t be anything else apart from compulsive’!

To go back to what we were saying at the start of this discussion, when we allow ourselves to be totally determined by the VCE what happens is that all traces of the Great Mystery, all traces of Radical Uncertainty, have been surgically removed from the picture. This is how the illusion works – the only way it can work. In the absence of Irreducible Mystery, in the absence of Radical Uncertainty, there is no longer any such thing as freedom! This is because that’s what freedom is – it’s unknowable mystery, it’s the thing we can never explain. ‘Irreducible Mystery’ is all there is, after all, and so if we have rendered ourselves unaware of it, uncomprehending of it, oblivious to it, then how can we ever possibly be free? How could there ever be such a thing as free action or free volition when our basic, fundamental picture reality is an-out-and-out lie? Mind-produced certainty is after all always ‘an out-and-out lie’; so-called ‘literal truths’ are always an out-and-out lie.

When we have allowed ourselves to be totally determined by the VCE (which is the same thing as ‘the state of being identified with the thinking mind’ then – as we have said – there is no such thing as Radical Mystery. It’s not just that we ‘can’t catch any sight of it’ when we have identified with the thinking mind – we don’t have any way of imagining or envisaging that they could be such a thing. We are ‘constitutionally incapable’ of comprehending it and for this reason we are never going to ‘smell a rat’ when it comes to suspecting that some kind of a trick has been pulled on us (which is the ‘trick’ that Baudrillard calls ‘the Murder of the Real’). The only type of reality that we can ever know about is the ‘imprisoning type’ that has been created for us by the rule-based mind, which is the type of ‘reality’ that has no trace of radical uncertainty associated with it at all.

There is great suffering here but we can’t see it therefore; we can’t see it because we are not allowed to see that the true nature of reality is Groundless Flux, Radical Uncertainty, or what David Bohm calls the ‘Holomovement’. There is great suffering here because the nature of the supposed ‘reality’ which we are relating to an everyday basis is entirely sterile; the ‘positive reality’ which is created by the rule-based mind is necessarily completely sterile – it’s necessarily sterile because it’s only an appearance, and what else can we expect from a world that is made up entirely of appearances’? This is why Milarepa talks about the ‘barrenness of samsara’ – samsara is barren because it is made up entirely of appearances; because it is made up entirely of appearances with nothing behind them. Another way of putting this is to say that the VCE is quintessentially ‘blank’ in its nature – it is only what ‘it itself says it is’, and this means that there is nothing in it that is actually real or true (this being – as we have said – the inescapable nature of all ‘concrete’ or ‘literal’ statements, which is what the VCE is made up of).

This is why we can speak of the Virtual Compulsive Environment as such – ‘virtual’ means that it is composed of appearances and nothing else; ‘compulsive’ means that we are given no other way of seeing things except the terms that it itself gives us, and ‘environment’ indicates it makes up the whole world for us (it makes up the only world that we are allowed to know). Taking all of these factors into consideration, we can see exactly how it is that we are totally controlled (or totally determined) by our ‘positively defined environment’. The positively defined environment (which is the environment that is created for us by the rational –conceptual mind) doesn’t give us any freedom at all. It actually can’t give us any freedom because freedom is one thing that it doesn’t have to give! And if the VCE can’t give it any freedom then it can’t give us anything because ‘freedom’ is the only real thing there is.

Seeing our situation like this (which is the only accurate way to see it) is to appreciate that this situation is a horror – we are, in this environment, not ‘who we really are’ but only ‘who we are defined as being’. Not only are we not ‘who we really are’ but only ‘who we are said to be by the VCE’ (or by the External Authority) but also we never do what we genuinely want to do, but only what the VCE tells us that we want to do!  We are not free to be ourselves and we are (of course) not free in any other way either! What else would ‘allowing ourselves to be completely determined by the Virtual Compulsive Environment’ mean anyway, if not this? What else could being a ‘conditioned self or ego’ mean, if not this? To be ‘conditioned’ means precisely to have no freedom and yet not realise it. Conditioning is how we lose our freedom and yet not know that we have lost anything.

The curious thing to consider here is a question of what we find in this existence to keep us going, to keep us interested? How can our ‘goals’ mean anything to us, given that whatever the goal might be  is only ever going to be a ‘dead representation’? And to cap it all – the one who achieves the goal is also ‘a dead representation’, and so how can any interest or genuine motivation come out of this? No matter what we might yearn for, hope for, dream of, it is only ever going to be ‘a dead representation’, it is only ever going to be the sterile construct of thought. It’s only ever going to be the sterile construct of thought in every case, and so how can we possibly find the motivation to persist (as we do persist) in this tired old game? What we are looking at here is this thing that Gurdjieff calls ‘false imagination’; essentially, we’re imagining something that doesn’t (and never could) have any existence. We’re imagining something that is ‘as unreal as unreal could be’ – the fulfilment of the desires of the (illusionary) self we think we are!

What would this ‘self-fulfilment’ look like? What kind of a thing would it be? What types of characteristics might it have? We haven’t got a clue of course and the reasonwe ‘haven’t got a clue’ is because there is no such thing as the one who has these wishes, these dreams, these aspirations! The whole thing is total groundless fantasy, therefore! False imagination, we might say, equals ‘the dreams of the false personality‘ and the dreams of the false personality were never going to come to anything! Out of the ‘un-reality’ of these groundless fantasies comes one thing and one thing only, and that is suffering. The experience of suffering is our indirect way of ‘knowing illusion to be illusion’ therefore, and this is why the suffering that unfailingly comes about as a result of our misguided activities always has the function of rescuing us from our deluded situation. It is our suffering (rather than our imaginary gratifications, or our ‘anticipations of our imaginary gratifications’) that sets us free…

Art: Scott-Marr. Amnesia

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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