Our lives are unchanging, repetitive patterns which are deterministically played out upon an underlying medium, and this underlying medium is the only thing that is not unchanging and deterministic in nature…
Our lives are modulations of this medium just as ripples are modulations of the surface of the pond upon which they travel. A ‘modulation’ is in essence a limited form of order that is imposed or imprinted upon a particular medium without altering or in any way influencing the actual nature of that medium. Radio signals for example are transmitted by modulating radio waves – the radio wave is first generated via an oscillating direct electric current, and then the pattern which is the ‘signal’ is imprinted upon this wave by either varying the amplitude or the frequency of the wave in such a way that the variations built into the radio wave are directly proportional to the signal which is to be transmitted. The radio wave can then be ‘decoded’ at the end of its journey to yield the message in the form of sound, which is another type of wave that which uses the medium of the air to propagate in.
The ‘signal’ is thus the modulation, and the modulation is the ‘signal’. The medium itself – as we have said – doesn’t come into it at all. The nature of the medium (whatever it may be) is entirely irrelevant as far as the ‘imprinted order’ which is the signal is concerned: when we listen to a radio program either on AM or FM we have no interest whatsoever in the peculiarities of the electromagnetic wave-form that is being utilized to transmit the signal to us. The EM radiation which carries our program is only a means to an end and we don’t have to know the slightest thing about it in order to enjoy what we are listening to.
The same is true for the modulation which is my life. The nature of the medium which is transmitting the little package of information (i.e. the message) is of no interest whatsoever to me – it doesn’t come into the picture at all as far as I am concerned. I am interested in the modulation, the message, but not in the medium that carries it.
But if it did happen that for some reason I became interested in the medium and wanted to know a bit more about it, then I would straightaway run into an insurmountable difficulty. This particular difficulty has a direct and very significant bearing on the perennial philosophical question regarding the ‘meaning of life’. When we debate this question of ‘the meaning of life’ what we are invariably concerning ourselves with is the message, the signal, the modulation. But the point is that the modulation or signal is entirely arbitrary – that is after all the nature of signals. We can use the example of a blank sheet of paper to illustrate this. The thing about a blank sheet of paper is that I can write anything I please upon it – I am free to write anything at all, the page doesn’t care. The sheet of paper is an entirely open medium, which is to say, it has no preferences or biases on way or another regarding what I write or do not write…
I can write anything at all on the sheet of paper – whatever can be written, I can write. This is the great thing about paper, this is why it is useful, but at the same time what this means is that nothing I write can tell me anything at all about the medium upon which I am writing. So to come back to the basic philosophical question regarding the ‘meaning of life’, we can equivalently say that because I can think anything I want (or say anything I want) regarding this topic, nothing I think or say has any relevance at all to the actual thing I am trying to address, which is the medium of consciousness that I am ‘writing my thoughts on’. How can thinking tell me about the medium upon which my thoughts are propagated? I can think anything I want using this medium and so it doesn’t really matter what I think. This is the nature of openness – it allows or facilitates anything equally well, or equally happily, and so we can learn nothing at all about the medium via the particular things that it allows.
This is what Keats was getting at in his idea of negative capability – if a writer such as Shakespeare can with equal facility pen all sorts of different characters and put his heart just as much into all of them, such that he can portray a scoundrel as sympathetically as a hero, then we have no way of knowing anything about the man himself. He does not put his own prejudices (or ‘slant’) into his creations, which is exactly what a poor writer unfailingly does.
The Wikipedia entry on negative capability quotes Charles Baudelaire from The Painter of Modern Life as talking about “an ego athirst for the non-ego…a prince enjoying his incognito wherever he goes.” The usual way is for us to go around thirsting for ego rather than non-ego, so that we can then say with unyielding certainty (and no small satisfaction) that “I am this”, or “I am that”, or “I think this” or “I think that”. As soon as we do exercise our right to forcefully put ourselves in some box or other however we give away the freedom that we had before making the statement – we have assumed a definite (or concrete) identity and so we can walk around incognito no longer. Everything that can be known about us is known. The greatest and most enjoyable freedom is therefore not to be trapped in the very limited role of any one particular player in the show, and not even know that one is trapped, but to have the capability to walk freely in and out of any role, without being in the least bit attached to any of them. In terms of how we see the world (rather than who we think we are in the world), what this unattached freedom means is that we can look out at the world through any eyes – so to speak – without thinking in our usual partisan way that one viewpoint is right and all the others are wrong. The state of being beyond right and wrong, beyond like and dislike, beyond all polarities, and so on, corresponds to the unconditionally open or ‘unattached’ situation which is the ‘medium’ upon which our thoughts are written, upon our lives are written – the medium of whose existence we are sublimely unaware.
Even if someone were to come along and starting talking – as we have been doing – about this medium we very rarely find ourselves being at all interested. We are too caught up in the prodigiously proliferating conditioned realities that are being played out on it to have any time left over to wonder about the possibility of the supremely transcendent reality that mystics claim lies beyond all the hubbub and the nonsense of everyday life. Often enough we go through the motions of pretending that we’re interested in some bigger picture, some philosophical or religious idea or other, but whatever musings we might have on the subject of ‘the bigger picture’ is actually only ‘more of the same’. Almost all of what we consider as ‘philosophy’ is simply playing about with various intellectual stances and setting some stances up arbitrarily above other ones. A debate then ensues between these different philosophical positions, a debate which is in its essence is no more than a tedious waste of time. Since any intellectual stance that I might adopt is only adopted arbitrarily, all such ‘posturings of the rational mind’ are equally redundant, equally hollow, equally pointless. As Nagarjuna says,
All philosophies are mental fabrications. There has never been a single doctrine by which one could enter the true essence of things.
Or as Gunpa Nyingpo has put it,
If you hold to a particular perspective, you don’t have the correct perspective.
In the non-dual traditions, the ‘right’ view is no view.
The suggestion that all views are equally incorrect, that the only true view is ‘no view’ (or that the only true stance is ‘no stance’) is not only incomprehensible, but actively repugnant to us. Because of our craving for the security of a positive (and therefore limited) representation of reality we have for thousands of years been unwilling to entertain any ‘philosophically negative’ messages that might have come our way, either from the East or from our the own neglected Western tradition of the via negativa. The principle difficulty – aside from the underlying but unacknowledged need of ontological security – is the utter impossibility of apprehending this medium that we are talking about in using our rational minds. Unless we are able to say something concrete about it, then why on earth should anyone be bothered to give it any credence? If it cannot be seen, nor touched, nor sensed in any way, nor described, or even be thought about or conceptualized, then where are we to start? It doesn’t seem like a particularly promising road to go down, to put it mildly. Even ghosts and fairies seem more real that this supposed Universal Medium, and so what possible profit could there be in spending time talking about it?
This puts us in a dilemma however because if we don’t ever have an interest in or awareness of the role of the medium in facilitating all the stuff that we do take an interest in then our whole lives are inevitably made ridiculous, made absurd. It is as if I am watching Coronation Street on TV and at the same time that I am watching it I believe it to be actually real. So then if I happen to meet one of the actors in the street and proceed to get angry with him (because he is playing a character I do not like) I have then made myself ‘absurd’ because I have lost sight of the fact that he is only an actor playing a part. In the same way when we remain utterly oblivious and incurious about the medium on which our lives are played out we lose the dignity that we would otherwise have. We lose the dignity of being ‘conscious’, so to speak – we confuse the actor with the act.
When we do not have any appreciation of the underlying medium then instead of being conscious beings we become conditioned creatures, completely manipulated at every step of the way by the programmed production that we are haplessly buying into. We become corks bobbing up and down on every ripple that comes along – thinking that when we bob up and down this is something meaningful, something especially significant to us, and not just ‘helpless blind reactivity’. We dignify our emotional responses to the dramas that we are getting caught up in by appealing to the sanctity of the conditioned ego (which is what Krishnamurti calls the ‘self-image’) and claiming that our involuntary reactions of thinking and behaving are genuinely unforced and volitional. But as I have no interest in the timeless medium upon which all dramas are enacted, it must also be true that I have made a perfect fool of myself. The consequence of making myself into a fool (i.e. an unconscious puppet) is that I have set myself up to go through unending stress and anxiety and turmoil and suffering the whole time over hugely inconsequential issues, which is in itself of course a thoroughly undignified type of business. Whatever empty drama comes my way – no matter how many times I’ve been through it already – I can’t help buying into it all over again and suffering accordingly every single time.
Seeing that what I as a conditioned being think matters a lot doesn’t actually matter in the way I think it does is a profound liberation. What this means is that any movement in the direction of seeing things not from the attached point of view of the modulation, but from the non-attached view of the medium itself means that I experience more genuine autonomy in my life. This movement means therefore that I am finding out – most unexpectedly – that I am not the totally conditioned being that the script of the drama says I am, and that I am not the passive, obedient subject of all the rules that were up to this point predetermining my reactions in everything. When I am not reacting automatically and unreflectively all the time, then I am ‘coming at life’ from the understanding that I am the medium and not the arbitrary message that is transmitted on this medium.
The general idea of ‘a medium’ is readily comprehensible to us and so this offers a way of getting starting on some sort of a discussion, even if the medium we are talking about is hard to talk about. In the world around us vibrations are transmitted via all sorts of media; anything that can conduct vibrations can be a medium whether it be the atmosphere, the ocean, or solid rock. Anything at all can be a medium. The difference here however is that we are in this case able know something about the medium – electromagnetic radiation is knowable to us rather than being profoundly mysterious, as is the ocean, or the air, or solid rock. All of this stuff is part and parcel of the physical universe and the whole point about the physical universe is that it is tangible to us, amenable to our senses or measuring instruments, capable of being grasped by our conceptual minds. The medium we are talking about in this discussion, however, is none of these things. The physical universe – so we shall say – is a phenomenon that is secondary to the medium we are talking about, just as our thoughts are second order phenomena, just as my notions of ‘who I am’ and ‘what life is about’ are second order phenomena, just as the experienced reality of a ‘me’ is a second order phenomenon. The physical world thus cannot be used as a platform to say anything about the first order phenomenon which is the universal medium, any more than the instrument of the rational mind can (which is itself firmly rooted in the material world). We cannot, in other words, apply what we know or have learned in everyday life to the intangible medium from which both the rational mind and the physical world have been derived. The laws of logic do not apply here.
As we have acknowledged, talking about intangible, indescribable and improvable realities does not on the face of it appear to be a very fruitful pursuit. Sensible pragmatic folk – as everyone knows – do not waste their time with such whimsical nonsense. To suggest that there could some sort of ‘transcendent’ reality which is invisible and inconceivable from the point of view of normal everyday consciousness is to invite instant derision. And yet a moment’s consideration would show that this is the way it has to be – how could things be any different? Our instant reaction stems from the fact that we over-value to a truly absurd extent the limited modality of the thinking, comparing, evaluating, analyzing, calculating mind. To use Ludwig Boltzmann’s turn of phrase, we have ‘excessive confidence in the so-called laws of thought’. We can only ever think about (or talk about) the ‘registered contents’ of the rational mind and there is nothing profound to be learned from these contents no matter how diligently or how persistently we play about with them. The rational mind is (by necessity) a closed system and so it can never take us beyond itself, any more than we can ever think about something without ‘what we are thinking about’ being a thought.
Having said this, there is still a way that we can indicate something about the underlying medium, albeit in a sort of ‘backwards’ kind of a way. We can say that the modulation of the medium in question is created by ‘stepping down’ its complexity, which is to say, by vastly oversimplifying it. We take some tiny element out of it and ignore everything else, and so it is this tiny element that becomes our ‘modulation’, our ‘signal’. Or if we were to approach the matter in terms of predictability, we would say that we replace the inherently unique or unpredictable nature of the medium itself – which by its very nature is outside of any categories, any determining criteria – with an element which is non-unique and predictable, and which by its nature belongs entirely with the appropriate category. Clearly this substitution process goes beyond what we might call ‘over-simplification’ because through it everything gets turned neatly on its head – uniqueness is substituted for by regularity, unpredictability is substituted for by predictability, radical change or difference is substituted for by trivial change or ‘sameness’. It is not just some sort of massive over-simplification that we are talking about here therefore but an actual inversion. And the point about this inversion is that in this substitution no mention is ever made to the key fact that it has ever taken place. This failure to mention the key fact of the inversion is no accident either – it is specifically through the agency of this omission that the ‘modulation’ in question takes place. It couldn’t happen in any other way. In a nutshell, it is because of this very important ‘omission’ that OPEN can be effectively substituted for by CLOSED.
The way that this ‘stepping down’ of complexity occurs is via a process that is known as symmetry-breaking. Symmetry-breaking is where structure appears out of structure-lessness, where form appears out of formlessness, where ‘the definite (or ‘closed’) statement’ appears out of open-ended uncertainty. It is analogous to the way in which wrinkles can be produced on what was previously a perfectly flat and featureless tablecloth, or the way in which ripples can be produced on a perfectly calm body of water via the agency of a breeze that has just sprung up. In these examples, the medium that is being disturbed is the perfectly flat tablecloth or the perfectly calm pond, and the disturbance (or modulation) is constituted by the wrinkles or ripples. A cosmogenic example of symmetry-breaking would be where a positively charged particle and the correspondingly negatively changed ‘anti-particle’ are spontaneously produced out of empty (or ‘featureless’) space. In this case the perfectly empty space is the medium and the disturbance would be the pair of particle which suddenly spring into existence, just like fine ripples suddenly appearing on the previously calm surface of a mill-pond when a breeze springs up.
Crucial to this symmetry-breaking process is the introduction of some kind of ‘separation’ or ‘time-lag’. The spontaneously produced particle and anti-particle pair have to be kept apart in some way after being created or else they will immediately self-annihilate again. When a wave is produced the crests and troughs must be separated or else they will sum up to equal zero – whenever we see a wave travelling across a body of water it is the fact that the crests and troughs are separated (or ‘staggered’) that makes the whole thing possible, that makes the wave able to be a wave. Going back to the particle and anti-particle, we can say that the positively and negatively charged particles are essentially the two poles of one and the same self-cancelling (or ‘null’) event, and that through some kind of staggering that is introduced into the picture both are able to exist, for a while at least, as if they were separate or independent entities. So we could say that the staggering is due to space in the case of the particle and antiparticle, and time in the case of the crest and trough of the wave. Since space and time are, as Einstein has said, inseparable we can content ourselves with saying that the ‘separation’ or ‘staggering’ that makes the physical universe possible (which makes the whole show possible) is the space-time continuum. Space-time is thus at root nothing more than a clever trick which makes possible the separation of the two complementary poles of one and the same self-cancelling (or null) event.
Instead of looking at the null-event which we are happy to call ‘the physical world’ we could equally consider the rational mind, which is our way of relating to, or making sense of, that physical world. We make sense of the world by describing it to ourselves, by making logically-coherent statements about it. Straightaway therefore we can see that the fundamental nature of logic (or rationality) is polar since it constructs the world (i.e. it formulates its coherent descriptions) on the basis of either positive or negative statements. Either a particular definite statement about the world is true or it is false and if it is one then it cannot be the other. This is sometimes known as ‘the law of the excluded middle’, which the Internet Encyclopaedia of Philosophy summarizes as “…the idea that every proposition must be either true or false, not both and not neither.” This source goes on to quote Aristotle on this, “It is necessary for the affirmation or the negation to be true or false.” (De Interpretatione, 9.18a28-29, Ackrill.) The same article also states that Aristotelian logic is based on ‘the law of non-contradiction’, which means that ‘two contradictory statements cannot both be true at the same time.
Whether we call it ‘the law of the excluded middle’ or ‘the law of non-contradiction’ makes no difference however – what we are talking about here is the separation of the opposites. In mathematical terms the separation of the opposites means simply that we are asserting in a very unambiguous way that YES ≠ NO. We are asserting the immutable fact of the non-identity of [+] and [-]; we are asserting the unquestionable fact that moving towards the one pole is absolutely and irrevocably different from moving towards the other. Out of this inequality, this absolute and irrevocable difference (i.e. this fundamental dissymmetry) structure is born. We can on the one hand think about this structure as it exists in the physical universe, and on the other hand we can look at it in terms of the categories and information-processing rules which go to make up the apparatus of the rational mind (the latter being an adaptation to the former).
The rational mind is in essence a fixed stance that we take when trying to ‘decode’ the sensory input of data from the outside world. At the furthest end of the device we have the raw data, and at the near end we have the processed, formatted, pre-packaged data, which is what we deal with on a daily basis. The processed data essentially comes down to a series of YES / NO answers with regard to the basic criteria behind the processing. If we regard the thinking mind as an array of categories then we can say that the incoming data gets sorted out with regard to the question of whether it ‘fits into’ (or ‘agrees with’) these categories or not. What we encounter as ‘information about the world’ resolves into either positive or negative statements, therefore. Furthermore, we can say that our ‘thinking about the world’ comes down to a pattern of ‘affirming or denying statements’ that are based upon a closed set of unquestionable and therefore invisible assumptions.
If a thought is neither affirming or denying then it doesn’t add anything to our understanding (to the picture we are constructing for ourselves) and so it is no use to us. Question marks are valueless to the everyday mind unless they can be promptly converted into definite statements of one sort or another. But the crucial point here is that the definite statements only get to be definite because of the invisible (and quintessentially arbitrary) assumptions upon whose basis we are operating.
The positive and negative statements naturally seem to us like primary data. We unreflectively take them to be the uncompromising raw facts of the situation but this is of course not at all the case. This stuff is strictly secondary data since it only gets split up into YES and NO answers because of the highly specific nature of the questions that are being asked. It is the question – or the category – that splits everything up into affirming or denying answers and so the fact that the world seems to us to be made up of positive and negative statements is an artefact of our particular closed way of interrogating the world, rather than being an inherent feature of the world itself. An example of this sort of thing would be ‘legal symmetry-breaking due to the passing of a law’ – when a law is passed the general population is immediately split up into two camps – ‘criminals’ and non-criminals’. We may naively speak of criminals as possessing some intrinsic quality of ‘criminality’ themselves, but the truth is that this criminal status is simply a projection we make and then place upon them as a result of the law that has been passed by our lawmakers.
Or we can take an even simpler example. A boundary is marked out, a line is drawn on a sheet of blank paper and the act of drawing the line straightaway divides the page into two portions – the portion on the one side of the boundary, and the portion on the other. The line is drawn freely – it doesn’t have to be there at all unless we put it there – but once we have drawn it then we immediately proceed to ‘naively’ relate to the two classes of possibility as if they have an existence that is independent of us, independent of our intentions. A boundary is really just a rule and so we can say that as soon as a particular rule is selected this act of selection immediately breaks the symmetry that existed beforehand (for example, the symmetry of the blank page) to create an asymmetrical situation, a polar situation. In the most general terms, we can say that the physical universe is the result of certain ‘laws’ (or ‘constants’) that have been selected in the process of cosmic symmetry breaking. In the same way we can say that the mental world of our thoughts is created via the selection of certain information-processing rules. Before I choose which rules or criteria I am going to use there exists a state of symmetry with regard to any theories or hypothesis or models (i.e. ‘thoughts’) that I might entertain in relation to the world. My thoughts are what collapses this original state of symmetry and creates in place of it a polar (or divided) state of affairs that I naively imagine to exist independently of me and my information-processing rules. As an existential philosopher might say, any meaningful structure that I perceive to exist in the outside world is always the result of an intentional act on my part.
We can look at this in terms of ‘open’ and ‘closed’. Once the open situation of original symmetry – which is the state of maximum complexity, maximum information content – is collapsed, what results is a closed situation which does not, as far as its own logic is concerned, appear to be closed. A shorter and simpler way of putting his would be to say that once the open situation of original symmetry (which is what we have been calling the medium) is collapsed what we end up with is a game. A game is technically describable as ‘the set of interactions or changes that occur around a particular set of rules.’ It is therefore the closed domain which is made up of those possibilities of action that are permitted by the rules. The Universal Set (which is not a game because it is not defined or constrained in any way) contains all possible moves or actions, and the game, which is a finite set, contains only those moves or actions that are lawful with regard to the rules that have been specially selected. A game may also be very simply defined as an exercise in “What if…” or “Suppose that…” I say “What if such-and-such were the case…” and then I proceed upon this basis. I carry on as if my conjecture, my assumption, actually were true rather than just being a conjecture or assumption, and then I see what happens. In this sense, both the physical universe and the rational mind are technically definable as games.
The rule is the ‘limiting condition’ and so when it is in place the type of changes or movements that are henceforth allowed to take place are constrained in accordance with its dictates. And yet from the point of view of the game itself there is no such limitation. This is inherent in the very nature of games since games consist only of that which is definitely stated, that which is ‘specified in advance’. The ‘limitedness’ of the game cannot however be a ‘permitted perception’ because to permit such a perception would be to instantly destroy the illusion that is the game. The only way we are going to know about the limitedness of the game is if the game itself allows us to know this fact and that is a flat impossibility. The game does not admit its limitedness to itself – if it did this then it would no longer be a game.
Going back to rules for a minute, we can say that the way a rule works is by specifically defining which elements shall be allowed, and ‘ignoring’ everything else – what has been specifically mentioned by the rule gets to be included and anything that hasn’t isn’t. In other words, the rule ‘takes an interest’ in whatever matches it, but takes no interest at all in whatever doesn’t. Thus, because the rule doesn’t register ‘non-belonging’ elements they simply do not exist for it and so – clearly – the absence of these elements is also something that is not registered. Informationally speaking, to register the fact that information has been lost from the system is the same as ‘not losing the information’ and so the only way that a collapse can take place is if the system in question doesn’t know that it has collapsed. Or from the point of view of game theory – the only way a game can be played is if we don’t know that it is a game.
A game can never contain referents to the crucial fact of its limitedness because if it were to contain such referents then those referents would have to consist of information regarding what is not included in it and if the game did contain information regarding what is not included in it then the missing elements would be included in it after all and so the game would no longer be a game. A game that contains information regarding everything that is not included in it is the same as ‘a rule that allows or permits all possible elements’ and there can be no such rule. If there was such a rule then it wouldn’t be ‘a rule’ at all since rules by their very nature have to be exclusive. A game that contains information about everything that it excludes is not a game at all but the Universal Set, which is the very antithesis of a game since it is not bounded, not ‘defined in advance’.
We can try to imagine – as a type of mental exercise – a game that allows for every possibility but when we do this we find that we run into difficulties straightaway. If I don’t want to leave out any possibilities then what I have to do is mention every single possibility in my ‘stipulations for the game’. But this is equivalent to exhaustively describing the Whole of Everything using some kind of a code or logical language and what is needed in order to achieve this task is, therefore, an algorithm that possesses the very remarkable (not to say highly improbable) property of being infinitely complex. The reason an algorithm of infinite complexity is needed is because what is being specified (i.e. the Whole of Everything) is itself infinitely complex.
Being infinitely complex is not the same as merely being ‘infinite’ –we are not saying that the Whole of Everything has an infinite number of elements in it and for this reason it would take us an infinite length of time to specify them all. If this were the only problem we could get around it by working out what the ‘regularities’ are, what the ‘constants’ are, and then coming up with a general formula to generally specify all the elements, all the possibilities. But that isn’t what ‘complexity’ means – complexity means precisely that there is no short-hand way of describing whatever it is that we are describing. Algorithmic complexity means that what we are trying to describe is ‘non-compressible’, so that we would need a formula with an infinite number of qualitatively different (i.e. discontinuous) terms in it to describe it. This – in effect – means that there is no shorter way to describe the thing than the thing itself. Or as Robert Anton Wilson says, “The only thing equal to the universe is the universe”.
The whole endeavour becomes absurd at this point however because if the only way to describe a thing is with the thing itself, then why bother describing it at all? Why not leave it all well enough alone and let the thing speak for itself? We might as well give up describing things altogether and enter into a state of receptive silence – which is pretty much what mystics have been saying throughout history. After all, if we do preoccupy ourselves with descriptions – with terminology and concepts and ideas and theories and language – we are only missing the point. The point here being not so much that reality is an illusion but that everything we say or think about reality is an illusion…
The fact that we cannot meaningfully describe reality is however one that is not at all obvious to us. Quite the reverse is true – we are under the impression that reality is very readily describable and as a result of this highly plausible but utterly misleading impression we are engaged on a ‘full time basis’ trying to do just that. We are absolutely convinced that it is possible to describe – and therefore know – reality. After all, there it is, as large as life, right in front of our noses, so surely it must be possible to say what it is, to know what it is? A more intuitive way to explain why this is not possible is to consider the matter in terms of mobility versus rigidity, free movement versus stasis. When we try to fully describe (or ‘finally describe’) reality what we are actually trying to do is to simulate free movement in terms of static statements, or static ‘frames’. The more statements, the more frames, the more rules we have the better able we are to simulate free-flowing movement. The thing is however that no matter how many frames we use we can never create the real thing – no amount of static frames can ever add up to genuine motion no matter how sophisticated we get in the science of simulation, no matter how many terms we stick in the equation. If there wasn’t free movement there in the mix to start off with then how can it possible arise later on?
This is like trying to specify movement using a formula. A formula is a fixed statement – every bit of it, every last little element of it, is 100% fixed, 100% defined, and so how free movement ever come out of it? This simply cannot happen any more than we can use an algorithm to specify a random (i.e. undefined or unspecified) number – that is a well-known mathematical impossibility. We can use a formula to describe linear movement or linear change but that is only a trick. Linear change is change that occurs in accordance with a fixed rule – it is ‘regular’ or ‘predictable’ which is really no change at all. ‘Linear change’ is actually just another way of way of talking about a game since the only type of change that can happen is change that has been specified in advance, change that ‘makes sense’ within the terms of the closed framework within which it takes place. Change that moves beyond the set of possibilities that are permitted by the logically consistent framework can’t be specified by a formula because the formula and the framework are one and the same thing. Only when there is a movement out of the logically-consistent framework can we talk about actual change.
All of this is intuitively obvious once we give the matter a bit of attention – free flow cannot be specified because to specify something is to pin it down. A rule cannot give rise to genuine change because a rule is the very antithesis of change. Change is that which constantly slips away from our grasp, from our attempt to ‘say what it is’. Change is that which constantly eludes the one who seeks to define it – like the Fugitive Stag of the Alchemists, the harder and more determinedly we pursue it the more it gets away. The Fugitive Stag is a version of Mercurius, the Winged Messenger, the Slippery One, the supreme symbol in alchemy, who personifies not just movement or change or slipperiness but the very principle of Truth itself. Our relationship with truth is a curious one – our assumption is that truth should be our captive, our prisoner, a kind of obedient slave who does what we want, is what we want.
Another way of putting this is to say that we don’t actually want to have any sort of genuine relationship with truth at all, and so what we do is to replace it with a tame (and therefore unchallenging) substitute – then we can go around paying lip service to ‘the truth’ all day long, which cleverly disguises the fact that our allegiance is actually not to the truth at all but self-deception.
We try to cage the truth with our rational minds, with our language. We try to hold truth prisoner with our rules – we think that truth lies in rules, in formulae, in theories, in concepts, in ‘facts and figures’, and thus we derive for ourselves a pale and watered-down version of the real thing, a wholly insubstantial version of the real thing, a thoroughly degraded copy of the real thing. We then insist that everyone relates to this vastly inferior copy, this false god, as if it were the genuine article, and make the genuine article – the unconstructed truth, the unregulated truth, the unauthorized truth – illegal.
And yet when we think that we really do have the truth nailed down with out hard-ass technical formulations, our brutal concrete language, our unforgivingly literal descriptions, we miss it entirely. We might be utterly and flatly convinced that we have it in the bag, that we have it all tied up so that it can’t get away from us, but whatever it is that we have there all trussed up in the bag it most assuredly isn’t the truth. It might have the name of being the truth but it isn’t. It is something else.
Bringing all this back to the original thread of our discussion, we can conclude by saying that the modulation or signal or message that gets transmitted along the medium is at root a very crude description (or simulation) of the medium itself. It is a kind of ‘static analogue’ of the medium, an ‘inverted representation’. The message is thus a degraded version of the medium, a caricature or parody of the medium.
It might seem strange that this should be the case but then again, what else is there to attempt to describe, seeing that the medium is the root of everything? No matter which way you look at it, everything comes down to the medium and the messages that are being propagated upon it. Everything comes down to the unconditioned and the conditioned. The messages can either be about their own version of the medium, or about other messages, but it all comes to the same thing in the end since a message about the medium is still only ever a message.
The message can never really be about the medium or else it would dissolve into it and gracefully disappear, like, as Meher Baba says, a sugar doll placed in hot water. If the message wants to ‘stick around forever’ then it has to pretend to be about the medium, it has to make a show of being about something that is not itself, just like a false religion which loudly proclaims itself to be serving God whilst in reality it is only serving itself, only interested in itself.
Messages are always tautological – they are always about themselves and even when they claim to be about something else this is only ever a deception. It is only just the message pretending to be something different. It is only the message pretending to be not the message, the game pretending to be not the game. It is only ever just the same closed system pretending to be open, the old pretending to be new.
The medium – we might say – is ‘ungrounded movement’, and the message is the ‘fixed formula’ which attempts to code for the movement. The medium is that which can’t be grasped or caught hold of and the message is the attempt to do just this.
This is really a crazy sort of thing – supposedly everything in the message is about the movement but actually nothing in the message is about the movement. The one thing we will never find in the message is a genuine reference to what the message is ostensibly about. It is not simply that movement or change is never mentioned, but that a whole system of false movement and false change (i.e. a system made up of static references) is put in place of it. This system creates the illusion of movement, the illusion that we are going somewhere, but we never actually do. This deceptive, endlessly distracting system of static references seems to be pointing outside of itself but really it only ever points at itself – it is like a palace of mirrors with images being reflected back and forth forever, a palace of intricate deception composed of endless mirrors within mirrors, baffles within baffles, decoys within decoys, mazes within mazes, traps within traps.
The fact that the system is closed or self-referential is precisely the reason why it gets transmitted on and on for ever, endlessly recycling, endlessly repeating itself. It has nowhere else to go – it can lead only to itself.
The message has no interest in what it itself claims to be interested in. It has absolutely no interest in anything other than itself – it is totally self-contained, totally self-absorbed, and that is why can do nothing other than repeat forever, like a broken record or a tape-loop. If it genuinely did have an interest in something else, something other than itself, then it would escape itself, be free from itself, find release from itself back into the undefined medium from which it originally arose.
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.