The environment that we are intimately and unreservedly in contact with every day is like an infinitely absorbent blotting paper that effectively soaks up every last bit of our attention. It nullifies us, in other words. It nullifies us with supreme effectiveness and it does this on pretty much a permanent basis.
The reason that the environment which we are intimately and unreservedly in contact with every day nullifies us is because it isn’t the real world at all but a virtual world or pseudo-world which is made up of our own preconceptions, our own assumptions, our own beliefs, reflected back at us. I am lost in a trap of unreality. I have been subsumed by the illusion world and the illusion world is not about to give me back. I have been subsumed by the nullity….
The only way in which our environment would not nullify our consciousness would be if we came across something, some element or other, that was a radical surprise to us – and this never happens. There are no radical surprises in everyday life. Everything we come across has been programmed to be there, every element of our daily experience gets to be an element of our daily experience because it corresponds neatly to our mental categories, and because it corresponds to our mental categories it cannot ever come as ‘a radical surprise’. What we perceive via our categorical mind is ‘purposeful’ (or ‘intentional’) rather than accidental. There are no accidents – everything we see is what we have been conditioned to see.
Inasmuch as the world we are in intimate contact with every day is purposeful rather than accidental in its nature (i.e. because in an unconscious sort of a way we intended to see it) it is bound to nullify us. More than this, the conditioned world that we perceive and believe in every day is bound to be our actual nullification itself. Perceiving and believing in this virtual world is our nullification because there’s nothing left over of our attention when we do this – if there was some of our attention left over then we would have the sense that there was something else to see, something else to reality other than the conditioned world with which we are so familiar. The fact that we don’t have this sense that we are missing something important (i.e. the actual unconditioned reality) proves that we have been nullified.
Another way of expressing this idea is to say that when we read the designed world (which we ourselves designed) in the way that it was designed to be read (in the way we designed it to be read) then our consciousness is immediately negated – it is negated because we’re not seeing anything that we’re not supposed to be seeing, it is negated because we’re not seeing anything that we haven’t been set up in advance to see.
Why the conditioned world should be nullifying in its effect on us isn’t hard to see: when I am relating to the conditioned world as if it were not the conditioned world (i.e. as if it were ‘reality-as-it-is-in-itself’) then I must be conditioned myself. This is the only way that this could happen – this is the only way that I could see the conditioning as not being conditioning. A prejudiced man does not after all see his own prejudices, when he hears them spoken, as being prejudices – he is immune to seeing this. Because he has this prejudice inside him, he is necessarily blind to it.
So this leads us to ask the question – when a prejudiced man encounters his own prejudice in the world being reflected back to him (and cannot therefore perceive it to be just some ‘arbitrarily-constructed bias’) then what does he think that he is encountering? What understanding does he have of what he is coming face-to-face with? Clearly the answer is that he understands what he is coming up against to be the actual unvarnished truth. He understands it to be simply ‘the way things are’.
Similarly, therefore, when I encounter and engage with the world that has been produced by my invisible and therefore inaccessible conditioning (i.e. when I come face to face with the ‘conditioned world’) I see it to be actual reality, I relate to it as being actual reality. But here we have a very odd situation – I am relating to something that isn’t ‘independently real’ but which is only real because I have set it up in advance for it to be real, because I have secretly agreed for it to be real. On the ‘theatrical’ level of things I am relating to the independent reality which is the outside world, but underneath this feint, this show, this gimmick, I am simply relating to myself.
So when I am ‘conditioned’ what this means is that I am relating to (and interacting with) shadows on the real world that have been cast by the conditioning, and which I do not see as being shadows (or projections) of my own conditioning any more than I am aware that I am conditioned. My projections have thus been separated from me; I have effectively ‘disowned’ them and from this point on in the proceedings I am going to act as if they have nothing at all to do with me. This is nothing more than a trick, but it is a trick that can be pulled off with truly spectacular success, so to speak. When I do pull off this trick then I enter straightaway into the state of ‘psychological unconsciousness’ – the state in which I am asleep and dreaming (albeit in a very dull kind of a way), and mistake my wretchedly dull and repetitive dreams for actual reality!
When I am asleep in this way then I ‘encounter’ my projections (as Jung says) for all the world as if they had nothing to do with me. I have devolved all responsibility; I have handed over responsibility for the proceedings to the ‘mechanical illusion-making machine’. In one way this is perfectly fine and there are no problems with it. We have here the situation where I am inhabiting a predetermined environment as if it were not an extension of my own mind, as if it were not a mechanical production of the mind that determined it and there is no reason why I should not do this if I want to.
This is however a kind of latent problem here – a hidden glitch that would go beyond being merely a glitch to becoming a fatal flaw if it ever came to light. The potentially fatal problem is that if I ever did perceive myself to be living in a world that is no more than an extension of my own mind then this would prove to be an infinitely claustrophobic situation. It would be revealed there is no ‘free space’ in this situation at all – I would see that there zero space in it, and this revelation would mark the end of the game. It would be the end of the game because the virtual space which I had been mistaking for real space (and happily utilizing as if it were real space) would suddenly be revealed as being a fake product. Virtuality would be revealed as virtuality and the world which I had previously been happily or unhappily inhabiting would be revealed as being no more than a two-dimensional drama, a very thin lie. And once a lie is plainly seen to be a lie, that’s the end of it.
The bottom line is that no matter how much it might seem that I am not relating exclusively to my own mental projections when I am in the unconscious state, I am. There is nothing that I ever encounter that is not my own closed mind reflected back at me and this is why it is ‘an infinitely claustrophobic situation’. There is no genuine spaciousness in this world whatsoever – it is as if I imagine myself to be going for a good long walk in the countryside when I am not, when I am in fact slumped in a deeply narcotized doze in a mouldy armchair in my dusty and airless living room, twitching and grunting occasionally like an old dog snoozing on the carpet, my mouth hanging open and catching flies by the dozen. No matter what I dream (either pleasant or unpleasant) my basic situation remains unchanged!
And yet despite this hidden ‘fatal flaw’ virtual space is still an incredibly effective illusion! It runs like clock-work every day, for just about every person on the planet! The fact that we never suspect that we are living in a world that is made up of virtual (or theatrical space) is pretty good proof of this effectiveness, if any were needed. It is ‘virtually flawless’. So here I am living in world that is no more than an extension of my own mind without having any understanding at all that I am, without having the slightest clue that I am. I don’t actually have the capacity to understand this truth because in order to be able to understand that I am living in a world that is an extension of my own mind (a world that is made up entirely of virtual space) I would have to have access to some genuine or ‘non-virtual’ space.
Genuine honest-to-goodness space is the same thing as perspective; it is what allows us to ‘move away’ from what we’re thinking about or doing so that we can actually see what we’re thinking about or doing. When there’s no space we can’t do this – when there’s no space we’re stuck to whatever we’re thinking about or whatever we’re doing like a fly on fly-paper and so we can’t ever see what it is. In virtual space there’s no ‘moving away’ from the contents of our own mind, the products of our own thinking process, there is only the illusion of moving away…
So within virtual space there isn’t the capacity to see anything truly, or to genuinely understand what is going on. Virtual space excludes the possibility of seeing anything truly – if it didn’t exclude this possibility then clearly we would straightaway see that virtual space is space without any actual freedom in it and so we would stop the futile and deeply meaningless task of trying to inhabit it as if there actually was genuine freedom in it! Virtual space – therefore – doesn’t provide us with the freedom to see that there is such a thing as virtual space, any more than a game contains within it (as a legitimate part of the game) the possibility of understanding that it is only a game. If a game contained a reference to the fact that it is only a game then this situation wouldn’t be a game at all, it would be reality. Or we could say that if a lie contained an explicit reference (somewhere in it) to the fact that it is a lie, then it wouldn’t be a lie. A lie that admits that it is a lie isn’t a lie – it is the truth!
Saying that there is no genuine space left in the world that is made up of ‘me reacting to my own projections as if they are not my projections’ is just another way of saying that my awareness, my actual consciousness, has been nullified. It is intuitively obvious why the situation of me reacting automatically to my own projections is a ‘space-less’ situation – after all, everything is just me! Even what is nominally ‘not me’ is just ‘me in disguise’ and so there’s no actual reality there. This is like a man having an in-depth conversation with himself – no matter how much effort he puts into it, no matter long he keeps at it, it still won’t get him anywhere that he wasn’t already, and so it simply doesn’t qualify as genuine communication.
What is going on here can’t ever be dignified with the term ‘communication’ because there is precisely zero chance of the participant learning anything new. It’s a stuck situation, a stale situation. This is why talking to oneself is such a profoundly uninteresting thing to do, although it is of course true that the inherent sterility of self-talk does not prevent us from engaging in it pretty much all of the time. It’s sterile and boring and thoroughly pointless but somehow it still seems worthwhile in some way or other. It suffices, remarkably, to get us through the day…
Communication is only communication because the participants are reaching out beyond themselves – if this ‘reaching out’, this genuine interest in the world outside our own private sphere, isn’t there (i.e. if the system is closed) then there is no communication taking place. No communication means that nothing new is coming into the system, which is another way of saying that there is never going to be any change in the system. Saying that there is never going to be any change in the system is a more significant thing to come out with than we might think – if the system is closed (i.e. if it is sealed off from any possibility of change) then this is the same thing as saying that the system in question isn’t real, that it doesn’t have any actual reality. Or to express this point the other way around, this means that there isn’t any such thing as a closed system…
In a peculiar way, though, when we do isolate ourselves from all change, when we do shut all the doors and pull the blinds down on all the windows and exchange genuine space for the virtual variety (thereby condemning ourselves to unreality) we do not realize what has befallen us. We are not aware of our fate, we are unaware of the strange doom that has befallen us. Our doom is that we become thoroughly unreal, that we end up inhabiting an unreal world, and the whole time we remain sublimely oblivious to what has happened to us.
The idea that we become unreal and yet carry on living in an unreal world without catching on what has happened to us might sound like a pretty crazy idea, but on the hand it happens routinely, it happens every day of our lives –crazy or not! Insofar as we perceive ourselves to be inhabiting a world that we actually know about – which is to say, are cosily familiar with – then it is absolutely the case that we are living in the deeply unreal world that is made up of our own mental projections. If we were living in the real world (which is to say, the world that exists independently of our own mental apparatus) then very clearly there would be no way in which this world would be ‘known’ to us, no way in which it would be familiar to us.
When we live in a defined domain, a domain that has been named by us and is known to us therefore on this basis, a domain which is familiar to our conceptual minds, then we are living in a mind-produced abstraction – not in reality. Familiarity means that ‘it is my own construct’. This is the bottom line, there is no getting away from this – if I am living in a world that I feel to be ‘known’ to me then I am living within the cosy unchallenging cocoon of my own standardized mental productions.
We are living in a film-set, in a theatrical realm where everything is ‘just for show’; a virtual-reality world where everything has ‘a front but no back’, an ‘outside but no inside’… Living in a cosy, familiar mind-produced abstraction means that we have devolved from genuine living into a thin semblance of living, into a mock-up of it, into a ridiculous over-simplification of the real thing. The processing mind oversimplifies reality to produce what is actually a ‘quick sketch’, a ‘cartoon’ or ‘token version’ of unmodified reality and so whilst we assume the existence of the real world (or we assume the congruence of reality with our hasty mental sketch of it) this assumption is quite unsubstantiated.
The mental cartoon which is the thought-created world isn’t just a simplification of the original article (in the sense that it contains an accurate but limited representation of reality in it) – it is as we have said a tokenized version, which is another way of saying that there is actually no reality in it. It is a version of the world where there seems to be change happening when there isn’t and since change or movement is – we might say – the ‘essence’ of reality, this means that the version or approximation of reality that the mind produces does not represent anything other than itself. It is in other words a tautology.
Here therefore is a world where something seems to be happening, but it isn’t! This is like a man who keeps on talking about doing something but never does. Or rather it is like a bureaucratic office or department whose reason for existing is that it does something useful, when it doesn’t. All it does is spew out ream upon ream of pointless red tape, which we are then obliged to wade through like good girls and boys until we ‘get it right’. This dysfunctional bureaucracy is an excellent analogy for the runaway super-officious rational-conceptual mind, which keeps on creating spurious and pointless virtual realities which we are obliged – being the dutiful creatures that we are – to live in!
The pointless or spurious virtual reality is as we have said a mock-up – it’s a theatre, it is a kind of safe or risk-free version of living, a tame analogue of living, an ‘in name only’ version of living which we can participate in whilst participating in nothing.
This is like our example of the man who is busy having an in-depth and no-holds-barred discussion with himself – imagining, as he does so, that he is actually getting somewhere. Perhaps he is afraid to take the risk of genuine communication, perhaps he is afraid to expose himself to other viewpoints, other outlooks on the world that might ‘rock the boat’ just a little bit too much for his liking. So he keeps it safe. He solves this problem by inventing another viewpoint – another viewpoint which actually isn’t another viewpoint at all. Or we could say that the safe-but-sterile virtual world produced by the mind is like a man who is afraid of real women, and who – on this account – obtains a virtual girlfriend for himself, which he then proceeds to take around with him wherever he goes. He gets around the terrifying risk of possible rejection and implied criticism by taking care of all the parameters himself, so he knows nothing embarrassing will ever happen.
In the unconscious state therefore we have no need for actual reality at all! We have figured out a way around it, we have devised a strategy that does away with the any need for reality at all. We have cleverly eliminated the ‘uncontrolled element’ from the equation. Needless to say, this is a deeply unhealthy, deeply unwholesome state of affairs – there is a malignancy to it. No good can come of it! In fact – as we have already said – it is not just that no ‘good’ can come of it, nothing at all can come of it. It is totally and utterly sterile…
The unconscious state is a solipsistic trance: it is a state of terminal self-involvement, terminal self-engrossment, terminal self-absorption. And to cap it all, the entity which is so self-involved, so self-engrossed, so self-absorbed, doesn’t even exist in the first place!
Of course, saying this doesn’t make any sense at all. If the entity we call ‘the self’ doesn’t exist, is unreal, is purely fictional, etc, then how does all this business of its apparent existence get started in the first place, and what maintains it? Why all the fuss, if there is nothing there to fuss over? Why all the drama? Why is there not just ‘nothing’? Why do I feel so very strongly that there is a ‘me,’ and that this ‘me’ is what really matters?
All we have to do in order to understand this apparently nonsensical suggestion is to consider the mechanism of self-negation, the mechanism of self-nullification. First I say YES, then I go back on myself and say NO! First I make a positive statement, then I contradict this positive statement. First I take a bold step forward, then I promptly step back again…
Or we could say that ‘self-nullification’ is the two-step action in which we create a world for ourselves, and at the same time implicitly deny that we have done so. We say that such-and-such is the case, and then forget that we ourselves have said that it is, and proceed to act as if it really were the case!
This therefore is the two-step procedure by which reality is effectively excluded and the solipsistic bubble of exclusive self-involvement thereby created. This however doesn’t immediately sound like quite the same as the two-step ‘self-negation’ mechanism we mentioned earlier, which was straightforward procedure of self-contradiction (i.e. making a statement and then going back on oneself and immediately making the opposite statement). After all, creating a reality and then automatically accepting that the reality we have just made is true is ‘self-agreement’, whilst making a positive statement and then straightaway contradicting that statement is ‘self-disagreement’. How then can we say that these are the same thing?
Agreeing and disagreeing are however only superficially different. They are only theatrically different (they only make out that they are different, as Alan Watts says). Both agreeing and disagreeing are manifestations of the one thing, which is an underlying ‘tautology’, or ‘self-referentiality’. A tautology demonstrates its emptiness by its inherent paradoxicality; as Wittgenstein says, “Propositions show what they say: tautologies and contradictions show that they say nothing.”
And yet the everyday mind operates completely on the basis of tautologies and contradictions – tautologies and contradictions that we are invariably blind to. This is not hard to show. Let us say for example that I make a definite statement about the world which I then proceed to agree with, which I then proceed to see as being true. This normal, everyday occurrence then is a self-referential act because my implicit logic is that the statement in question must be true because I myself have said that it is! Just to go over this one more time: first I create a definite statement and then I vouch for it (or agree with it) as if I am some kind of supremely trustworthy independent adjudicator, when of course I am not.
The ‘self-referentiality’ in this mental procedure isn’t hard to spot. The statement that I have just made isn’t something different from me, and therefore something reliably independent of me – it actually is me! And although it is an extension of my mind, my own projection, my own home-grown definite statement, I go ahead and check it against my own ideas about what is true or not true, false or not false, and then I come to the carefully considered conclusion that it is indeed true, that it is indeed correct!
This absurdly circular logic is what constitutes the mechanism of self-referentiality, and it is also a perfect example of tautology, which is where a word is defined in terms of itself.
So we can say that the conceptual mind is ‘tautological’ in its nature because it names the world, defines the world, designates the world, categorizes the world, and then immediately proceeds to relate to these names, these definitions, these designations and categorizations as if they really do exist out there in the world. This meaning that we are relating to however (which is the defined or regulated meaning that makes the world we experience on a daily basis seem so very familiar or recognizable) doesn’t really exist in the world at large. The meaning that we discern or read in our environment is meaning that we ourselves have put there – it’s our own meaning, which means that it isn’t really any sort of meaning at all…
Soren Kierkegaard says that to be labelled is to be negated, but it is also true that when we label the world we are still negated, because we are foolish enough to believe our own labels…
When we perceive the meaning that we ourselves have put in the world as existing independently in the world then our awareness has been nullified. We ourselves have been nullified – which means that we have become unreal without realizing that we are unreal. We have fallen into the trance of self-nullification.
On the other hand, when we see our projections as they really are – as being our own projections – then we are no longer in the trance of self-nullification. When we recognize our own projections for what they are then we have woken up…
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.