The world as we know it can only exist within the protective confines of the one-sided boundary. Similarly, I as I know myself can only exist within the safe and secure remit of the one-sided boundary. Without this peculiar and largely unheard of mechanism the everyday reality which is all we know would vanish in flash, like mist on a hot summer’s day, or the picture on a TV when the plug is pulled out. So what is exactly this one-sided boundary that is so very important, so crucial to the maintenance to everything we know and are familiar with? The idea itself is a strange one – a boundary is after all only a boundary because it ‘bounds’, because it separates one region from another. A boundary is a demarcation, it is an interface between two things, and so how can there be an ‘interface’ when there is only the one face? How can there be an interface when there is nothing to interface with?
This is really a philosophical conundrum – it is like having a box that has an inside but no outside. If such were the case however then the box wouldn’t be a box at all but the whole of everything since only the whole of everything ‘doesn’t have an outside’. The whole of everything doesn’t have an outside because its nature is to include everything. So, if we say – just for the sake of the argument – that there was something that was on the outside of it then that thing would straightaway have to be included since the essential nature of the Whole is to include everything, no matter what it is. Then, once it had been included, it wouldn’t be on the ‘outside’ any more – nothing could be on the outside. There can’t be ‘an outside’ to the Whole of everything, by definition.
This doesn’t mean that ‘the Whole of everything’ has a one-sided boundary however – the Whole (generally known in set theory as U, the Universal Set) doesn’t have any sort of a boundary at all. It is boundary-less; it is limit-less, by definition, and so it has no ‘end’. The one-sided boundary may be a peculiar sort of a boundary but it is a boundary all the same. It is a boundary because it encloses something. What is enclosed within the one-sided boundary isn’t the whole thing at all, but if you are on the inside it nevertheless seems like it.
What we are talking about is something that is quite different to ‘wholeness’ – what we are talking about is ‘containment that doesn’t acknowledge itself to be containment’. We are talking about a box that doesn’t acknowledge itself to be a box, and yet which contains us all in it just the same. This is restriction that goes unnoticed, limitation that is invisible. The way that the one-sided boundary works is by something that we might call ‘unconscious intentionality’ – I draw a line, I set a limit to what I am going to look at, and then having set this limit for myself I forget that I have done so and so as a result of this manoeuvre I automatically assume that the limit in question is a real one. I take it for granted that the limit exists in reality rather than just in my mind. This process is an ‘unconscious’ one in the very straightforward sense that I simply never think about what I am doing. I just do it, and straightaway get trapped by what I have done. Like the Hotel California, I can check in anytime I want, but I can never leave.
As a result of this unconscious ‘self-trapping’ mechanism my world becomes arbitrarily bounded without me ever realizing the fact; the one-sided boundary that I have put in place creates a sort of false wholeness – it creates a limited (or closed) domain of experience that I automatically assume to be ‘the whole of what is possible’. The one-sided boundary that I surround myself with doesn’t exist in reality, therefore, but only in my thinking. In reality there is something on the other side of the boundary – there is the whole world! But for me there isn’t anything – the limit in question is my ‘cut-off point’ and so for me nothing exists beyond it, even if someone runs up to me and helpfully tells me otherwise.
The cut-off point includes itself. Just as I never look at what lies beyond the cut-off point, so too I don’t look at the way in which I never look beyond it. I don’t look at the cut-off point – I am not interested in anything on the other side of the one-sided boundary and I am not interested in the fact that I am not interested. It is because the cut-off point includes itself that the one-sided boundary gets to be one-sided – the mechanism would simply not work otherwise because it would not be ‘water-tight’. With the one-sided boundary it is ‘all or nothing’ – if we are to utilize it at all then we cannot know about it. Its existence must be hidden from us as well as if it were a cache of top-secret files in a safe in the basement of the CIA headquarters in Langley, Virginia.
LIVING IN A BOX
This is of course not a radically new idea in psychology. Jung spoke of rational thought as being intrinsically ‘one-sided’ and it is this curious partition of attention that he was talking about. Although the idea is not new, neither is it one that we tend to be particularly familiar with – it is (naturally enough) not fashionable in contemporary ‘rational psychology’ to be looking at the way in which rational thought is fundamentally limited. It could be said that Jung’s idea of thought being one-sided is itself ‘on the other side’ of the collective one-sided boundary! This is an idea that we are simply not interested in – what we are interested in is the stuff that is on this side of the all-important ‘cut-off’ point, the cut-off point that no one will ever acknowledge to be there, the boundary that no one will talk about.
One-sidedness of thought is the same thing as one-sidedness of attention – it means that we only look at what lies on one side of a line that we ourselves have drawn. We choose to thus contain ourselves. This is trick that we are more familiar with on the visual-perceptual front: if I were to look at a cartoon drawing of a man, for example, then this cartoon drawing would look like a man – no matter how crudely it happens to be drawn – because I have learned how to look at it in the way that makes it look like a man. In other words, I focus narrowly on the enclosed space that lies on the inside of the drawing, and I ignore the open space that lies on the outside. Alan Watts explains this by talking about the ‘out-line’ and the ‘in-line’ – his point is that we always ignore the crucial fact that the universe’s ‘in-line’ is the exact same thing as the figure in question’s ‘outline’.
What I am doing here when I focus in this one-sided sort of a way is that I am ‘playing a game’ – a game is a formal exercise in intentionality and I am engaging in the formal exercise that only what lies on the inside of the line exists. This isn’t actually true, but it is true for the sake of the exercise. Being one-sided is referred to in everyday language in a number of ways – we talk about someone as being ‘square’ or ‘straight’, by which we mean that they have a particular fixed and limited way of seeing the world, or behaving in the world, that they can’t seem to question, or even be aware of. We are all pretty much like this to some degree or other of course but every now and again we might meet someone who is more extreme than we are, and so it stands out. We also sometimes talk about people ‘thinking outside the box’ – we notice someone who is thinking outside the box much easier than we notice the opposite phenomenon of someone thinking inside the box because thinking inside the box is so much more common. Thinking inside the box is ubiquitous, and so it goes without comment; we are all not just ‘thinking inside the box’ but ‘living inside the box’, and hardly anyone ever notices the fact. The box is our whole universe. “What box?” I say, “There is no box…”
Another way of talking about the box is to say that we are all playing a game – in short, we are exclusively involved in a private and fundamentally over-simplified version of reality. Reality itself we ignore. If we didn’t ignore ‘un-simplified reality’ (which is to say ‘reality without the cut-offs’) then the whole point of the exercise would be lost. The all-important quality of immersiveness would be lost and as a result we wouldn’t be able to carry on pretending that our over-simplified version of reality is reality itself. The bubble would then burst and all those structures (or ‘rules’) that exist, safely and securely protected within that bubble would be shown up as purely arbitrary and unstable constructs. We would no longer be able to take the game seriously any more – it would become irrelevant to us, it would become absurd and unreal, and it would become therefore incapable of providing us with the sort of comfort and security that we want from it.
THE POSITIVE WORLD
The idea that we are all going around completely oblivious, completely immersed in our own private, over-simplified version of reality does not seem to immediately ring true to us. On the contrary, it doesn’t ring true at all, no matter how long we think about it. The reason we don’t perceive ourselves to be living in some sort of private and therefore essentially artificial reality is of course because we are all living in the same mental bubble (the same ‘reality tunnel’, as Robert Anton Wilson calls it). We are all playing the same game, taking the same things seriously. This collusion provides immense confirmation for our world-view and – with that confirmation in place – we don’t need to look any further. The collective confirmation has the effect of curtailing our curiosity, and making it seem therefore that ‘the box is all there is’. The fact that this massive confirmation is there straightaway annihilates any curiosity we might have about what might be called ‘the bigger questions’ leaving us free to concentrate for all we’re worth on what lies safely inside the box. For anyone to start ‘digging deeper’ in the face of such universal agreement seems to us to be possibly hopelessly eccentric, possibly downright unbalanced, and definitely just plain ‘wrong-headed’. We can’t understand why they are like this, what possible motivation they could have for refusing to accept what is so self-evidently true.
THE ‘STRANGENESS FILTER’
There is an easy way to test out the hypothesis that we are each one of us securely ensconced within an artificially maintained bubble of pseudo-reality, whilst at the same time being safely insulated from the genuine article, and that is to take a moment to look around and reflect on whether the world seems strange to us, whether or not it appears to me there is something deeply mysterious and profoundly unaccountable about it. Generally speaking, as a matter of common experience, the world doesn’t appear to be strange, mysterious and unaccountable and this is due to the effective operation of the protective bubble of the one-sided boundary which has as its defining function the ability to ‘filter out strangeness’. The proof of the filter is quite simply that everything seems so normal!
How this protective function works is quite straightforward to explain: the one-sided bounded works by excluding everything we that we haven’t specified in advance. If it isn’t on the guest-list it doesn’t get through! This is exactly the same thing that happens when we specify a mathematical set – we say something like “Let Q be the set of all fruit beginning with the letter B…” and then anything that fails to satisfy that key criterion doesn’t get to be in the set. End of story – no further argument. This is the whole point of the one-sided boundary – it includes what we want to be included and excludes absolutely everything else, without us having to know what it is that has been excluded. Thus, the only stuff that gets to ‘exist’ within the bubble of the rational mind is stuff that has logical precedence, stuff that matches or corresponds with the established ‘framework-of-reference’, which is what decides whether a particular element or content is categorizable or not.
If something isn’t categorizable then as far as we are concerned it isn’t something, it isn’t anything – the only way anything gets to be something is if it matches my pre-existing categories. The ‘somethings’ in question are my categories, in other words. The definite features of my world are definite in the way that they are only by virtue of the fact that they agree exactly with the demarcations provided the framework of reference that I use to make sense of the world, and so that ‘definition’ always exists in relation to the framework. A student of philosophy might say at this point that the ‘bubble-world’ which we are talking about is a ‘positive’ world, which is to say, that it is composed entirely and exclusively of details or elements that have been specifically stated such that anything that has not been specifically stated does not exist. Another way of explaining the idea of a ‘positive reality’ is to say that it is intentional – it is intentional because unless there is a word, a ‘descriptive term’, for what is happening then it isn’t happening, at least not as far as I am concerned. Because it is me that provided the terms for interpreting what happens, the bubble of ‘interpreted reality’ that I live in is intentional. It only gets to be there because I say it will be there.
The positive elements that go to make up my world are therefore projections of my abstract system of deciding what is, and is not, real and this inevitably means that the managed world that I am living in – the world which is created my mind – is no more than a faithful reflection of the assumptions (or ‘rules’) that are enshrined in that system. It is a closed system, and so without any exception at all what I experience as ‘having happened’ always agrees with my invisible preconceptions regarding what is ‘possible to happen’. Thus, this peculiar state of affairs is – in another sense – not peculiar at all but on the contrary very commonplace since it is the state of affairs that we all live under almost all the time. To escape even momentarily from this closed and therefore tautological bubble of mind constitutes something pretty much on the order of an outright miracle. To leave the bubble of our everyday experience, and encounter reality itself (even though this unconditioned reality is all there is and the regular, deeply-familiar and decidedly ‘non-strange’ world of the limited ‘bubble-which-we-don’t-see-to-be-a-bubble’ is entirely ‘empty’) is an extraordinarily unlikely event.
ZERO STRANGENESS EQUALS REDUNDANCY
‘Bubble-reality’ is reality that has been regulated, managed, mapped-out, processed, controlled, and so on, and the price for this is that it is now redundant. It has no information content, being composed – even though we can’t usually see this – of one hundred per cent redundancy. Redundancy always follows as a consequence of intentionality – there is no way that it can’t do. If something is 100% predictable, 100% prefigured, then it is redundant. We can also look at this in terms of tautology: tautology means that we explain or define something in terms of itself, which isn’t actually any sort of explanation or description at all, and redundancy is what happens when we keep on saying things that we have already said, and so there is no need to keep on saying it. What we are talking about is ‘useless filling’ or ‘pointless padding,’ in other words – if I arrange for something to happen and then it does happens, then clearly this ‘happening’ is redundant because there is nothing unexpected in it. It was prefigured. The whole point of our safe and secure bubble-reality is that nothing can ever happen unless we have first said that it can happen and so by definition nothing can ever happen within our rational-conceptual minds that isn’t instantly redundant.
We can look at this rational redundancy as being the inevitable result of the ‘validation’ mechanism, the mechanism that assures us that what we take to be ‘real’ most definitely is real, with no doubts or uncertainties attached to it at all. The way this mechanism works is very straightforward – an element of experience arises, and next there is an automatic procedure whereby I check this element with my conceptual framework, my categorical mind, in order to ‘approve’ it, so to speak. If the element in question is approved by the validation mechanism then it is definitely real, and if it fails the test then it isn’t real, it doesn’t register, and as a result it doesn’t even enter into our conscious experience…
TURNING LIFE INTO GARBAGE
This basic validation procedure might be said to come about as an automatic compensation behaviour for a fundamental type of ontological insecurity. The elements of my experience – whatever they might be – are there but because of my insecurity I want to check them out and make sure of it; as soon as I do this, however, I take the life out of what I have just validated for myself, I nullify it, I instantly turn it into redundancy, which is to say, into pure informational ‘garbage’. By proving it to myself – so that I can in effect ‘seize hold’ of whatever it is and say to myself that this, that or the other is definitely true (or that this, that or the other definitely exists) I take the good out of whatever it is. To say that I am conceptually seizing the elements of my experience is the same as saying that I am making these elements into my possession, I am making them mine, which is where the glitch comes in because mine is exactly what they aren’t. The elements of my daily experience are not mine and is what makes them real and vital; they are fundamentally and radically other, and this is what makes them meaningful as opposed to being ‘pointlessly redundant’. To convert life into the ‘product’ of my rational-conceptual apparatus is to lose the point entirely, and end up getting mired in the doldrums of the rational mind with exactly zero prospect of ever getting out.
TILING OVER REALITY
The validating procedure of the everyday mind produces a world made up of unquestionable certainties, a world composed of cold, hard facts. These cold hard facts are like stone tiles or concrete paving slabs that we use to cover over all the available space until everything we see, everything we encounter, has the same cold, hard character, the same dull and lifeless ‘blankness’. What we end up with therefore is a world which is quintessentially dead and mechanical, a world that is wholly inimical to our natural free-flowing curiosity and playfulness. In such a harsh environment the spirit is liable to quail within us and go into hibernation, to withdraw back deep inside. The factual world which we produce for ourselves as a result of acting on (or acting out) our unacknowledged ontological insecurity is therefore a disaster pure and simple – it is a disaster because it is frankly unliveable. It is ‘good for nothing’ – it is sterile and static, lacking in possibilities, lacking in any sort of ‘free flow’ whatsoever. The reason it is so lacking in possibilities is because it isn’t actually a world at all, but simply a fixed posture of catatonic withdrawal in the face of an ‘unfixed’ or ‘groundless’ reality.
ADAPTATION MEANS INVERSION
Despite the dreadful nature of what we have been presented with as ‘a world’ we try to make a life for ourselves on this unpromising basis. We submit to the grim authority of the factual world because we must, we bow down to it, we try to cut a deal with it so that there is ‘something in it’ for us, some ‘possibility’ – even though, as we have said, this is a world which is quintessentially defined by its absolute lack of possibilities. It is the lack of possibilities that makes flat certainty into flat certainty, fact into fact, literal statement into literal statement. The nature of the deal that we cut within this realm is thus by necessity a ‘dark’ one – it is deal based upon the principle of self-deception and neurotic withdrawal. We only stand a chance of doing well in this world if we see everything backwards, if we see the truth as an enemy and convenient lies as the most precious commodity. Everything is henceforth inverted: what supports my system of delusion (i.e. my system of adaptation) is good, and what threatens it is bad…
The paradox is that what we perceive as being the strength of the factual mind-produced world is actually its weakness. When we talk about the factual or literal world as having a character that is ‘cold and hard’, ‘dull and inert’, ‘blank and lifeless’, we are actually talking about its redundancy, which is to say, its intrinsic hollowness or unreality. All of these characteristic unyielding ‘authoritian’ or ‘tyrannical’ qualities are demonstrations of its lack of substance, rather than the reverse. This is like a man who is dogmatic and authoritarian and controlling and so on – we might think these characteristics are manifestations of his strength, whilst the truth is of course that they are manifestations of his great weakness, his complete lack of substance. The rules and the regulations are only there to cover up his fear. The blustering and the roaring and the threats and the violence are all a bluff – albeit a very intimidating one – because aside from all of this he has nothing, nothing at all. Once we let him get the upper hand however then we are done for because then he will never give us a break, he will press home his advantage at every opportunity. If on the other hand we challenge his bluff right from the start – and dare him straightaway to do his worst – then we will never fall into his power. If we give him even an inch however we are lost. Once we buy into the game then we have to play by the rules of the game and in the same way once we start playing by the rules of the ‘dead mechanical world’, then we too become ‘dead and mechanical’. We become, as Colin Wilson says, ‘things trapped in a world of things’.
THE MAD KING
We are inhabiting not a world but the shell of a world, the dried-out husk of a world. We are having to make do with the macabre skeletal remains of a world, after all the flesh has been eaten off it by the munching jaws of the rational mind – the ‘eater’ of reality. Once the rational mind gets the upper hand, and gets to call the shots, then this is always the outcome – the progressive and irreversible impoverishment of reality. We end up starving amidst the banquet, wasting away to nothing amongst tables that are laden with every kind of fine food and delicacy. We end up like the ‘Mad King’ told of by Robert de Ropp, who lives in a dank and stinking cellar, sitting on an old box which he thinks is his throne, dressed in filthy rags which he thinks are robes of immaculate silk and ermine, holding a stick in his hand which he imagines to be his jewel-encrusted sceptre, the proud emblem of his power. His courtiers keep coming down to implore him to return to his throne room, to govern his kingdom as he should, but in his madness he will not listen. He cannot understand what they are on about.
FEAR OF SPACE
The over-simplified version of reality that is manufactured for us by the one-sided boundary gives us the sense of security that we crave, but at the same time that it does this it terrorizes us. It beats us around the head with the very rules, the very certainties, the very facts that we were so keen to have in the first place. We like the narrowness of the factual world not on its own account but because we fear spaciousness so much. Our love of limitation, our prizing of it, is really our fear of spaciousness in disguise; we don’t love limitation for itself but for what it can bring us – an escape from ‘endlessness’, an escape from limitlessness, an escape from unconfined space. We don’t love narrowness for its own sake but because it gives us relief from what philosophers call ontological terror, which is the terror that grips us when we see that reality is bigger than we could ever have expected, and could ever hope to understand. We don’t value limitation for its own sake because there is nothing there to value – after all, limitation isn’t a ‘thing in itself’, it is merely a deficit, a lack, an absence. It has nothing of itself to give because there is nothing in itself.
We like the narrowness afforded us by the one-sided boundary, but it oppresses us and torments us all the same. Like a bully, it doesn’t give us a break, it keeps us on the run, it keeps us pressed up against the ropes. The business of over-simplifying the universe (i.e. ‘scaling everything down’) so that it is no longer such a challenge to us necessarily involves scaling ourselves down too. My sense of myself – the pragmatic understanding of who I am and what I am about – is shrunk down at the same time the universe is. Both become pettier: I become a very limited version of who I really am, a superficial or two-dimensional version of who I am, a bad copy of who I am. I become a mind-created image, the same as everything else in the bubble-world of the rational mind. Everything in this world stands for something real, something with substance, but doesn’t actually possess that key attribute itself. That would of course be okay in itself, but what has happened during the over-simplification process is that this key distinction has been lost and the need for the ‘real world’ has been done away with altogether. Instead, we make do with tokens that don’t so much stand for elements in the real world as they stand in for them. The two-dimensional token-world substitutes for the real world; as the philosopher Jean Baudrillard says, hyperreality replaces reality, the map replaces the territory.
THE ELIMINATION OF INTERIORITY
The point about the superficial mind-created self (which is what Krishnamurti calls the ‘self-image’) is that it is all appearance and no content. It is a theatrical entity, it is all for show. As Wei Wu Wei says, it has ‘an outside but no inside’. The ‘outside’ is a promise of content, just as a cheque is a promise of money, but with the collapsed self-image the promise is all you get. There is no interiority, there is no content. The reason that there is no interiority to the mind-created self is because interiority is spacious, and space is precisely what has been eliminated, removed, taken out of the equation. Who I really am is this spacious or expansive interiority, and so when this unbound ‘spaciousness’ – so-called because it contains unlimited possibilities – is collapsed into a mere husk or shell, a sterile mechanical thing which is quintessentially devoid of any possibilities, then this is suffering. The ancient Egyptian symbol of this situation is the Crux Ansata, the Ankh, which is a representation of eternity – as the circle of endlessness – crucified upon the cross of space and time, or conditioned material existence in a world made up of rules and restrictions.
TRANSFORMING FREEDOM INTO COMPULSIVITY
Because my sense of myself is so narrowly defined, and therefore so brittle and precarious, I am always having to be on the lookout for threats and insults – there is very little which will ‘agree’ with me, and an awful lot that will not. In truth, reality itself does not agree with me and so I have to make do with an abstracted portion of it, which is exactly what the one-sided boundary arranges for me. The rest of reality I do not want to know about. Instead of saying that my sense of myself is narrowly defined, we could just come out with it and say that it is an artificial ramshackle construct made up of lots of little rules, or ‘stipulations’; these rules define who I am and what I am about, and although stating ‘who I am’ and ‘what I am about’ sounds all very affirming, such definite statements are of course no more than ‘limitation in disguise’. Rules represent safety and security but the other side of the story is that they have to be obeyed. The degree of security we obtain from a rule is directly proportional to the degree to which that rule doesn’t give us any leeway, to degree to which it takes away our freedom. So what this means is, the more ‘security’ we have, the more we are compelled to do whatever the rule requires of us. A rule doesn’t give anything, it takes away! It takes away our freedom. Compulsion, in plain language, means that “Do what I say, or else…” and it is this ‘or else’ – unspecified as it may be – that bullies and terrorizes us the whole time.
The compulsions will only give us a hard time if we refuse (or are for strictly practical reasons unable) to do what they want us to do. The more specific the rule-set however, the more problematical it is to obey them, and so having lots of rules about how we can be and how we should or must live life is therefore a recipe for having a truly rotten time. Having lots of rules about life, rules that keep proliferating as time goes on (and becoming as a result progressively harder to obey successfully) constitutes the very essence of neurotic torment, and it is this torment – of one degree or another – that attends us at every step when we insist on living life in ‘safe mode’, which is to say, within the one-sided boundary of the rational mind. And the icing on the cake, so to speak, is that as the big squeeze starts to get to us and the suffering caused by the unacknowledged limitation which is the neurotic life grows, we respond (or, as we say, ‘cope’) in the only way we know – by withdrawing from reality even further, by narrowing our world even more. This is therefore a one-way street, and where this street is taking us is not somewhere anyone would ever want to go, not even in their imaginations. It is a place where the degree of freedom we have goes down to virtually zero, and the corresponding degree of pain and suffering escalates to levels that we can only call hellish.
This discussion gives us a number of equivalent ways of understanding how limitation translates into suffering. Instead of just saying that constriction pinches us, just as a shoe that is too small for us pinches (which is intuitively obvious), we could say the narrowing of ‘what is possible’ necessarily gives rise to compulsion, and that compulsion is the same thing as suffering. Compulsion is the inversion of our intrinsic being – it is freedom ‘stood on its head’. Narrowness of being may not immediately translate in to pain because we do not know that our being is narrow, and so we take it that our stature – so to speak – is not diminished, but as is it ought to be; the other side of restriction of being is however restriction of action, which is a fancy way of talking about coercion. Coercion doesn’t necessarily cause immediate pain or distress either because we can just ‘go along with it’ and then everything seems to be just fine – in fact we get rewarded when we are able to successfully obey the compulsion, which means that we actually get to feel good about ourselves, which of course means that it doesn’t feel like suffering at all.
This brings us to the crux of the matter. Any activity that is based on rules (and that is therefore essentially ‘unfree’) is technically a game and the curious thing about games is that they very much tend to look attractive to us. The reason they look attractive is because they offer us the chance of ‘winning’, of being ‘a winner’, and this notion acts as a magnetically, hypnotically powerful lure – a lure that never seems to diminish in its capacity to captivate us, to hold us prisoner. If it were the case that we really did stand a chance of become ‘a winner’ – as a kind of ‘isolated opposite’, like the North Pole of a magnet that has been miraculously separated from its complementary South Pole – then games would not necessarily be traps and they would not necessarily be traps, and they would not necessarily translate into ‘suffering’. But the fact that there is no such thing as a permanent winner (i.e. an entity which is 100% winner and nothing else) any more than there is such a thing as an isolated opposite, an UP without a DOWN, means that the lure is a total illusion, never ever to be obtained no matter how long we spend chasing it. It means that games are traps, pure and simple – no matter how hopefully (or how unrealistically) we may perceive them.
One way of looking at the suffering inherent in games is to say that games are a disguised form of frustration – it never works out for us but we keep on going all the same – like a chronic gambler – because we keep thinking that it will, or that it might. We are chasing the dream, chasing the dragon, and the fact that we never actually get where we want to get doesn’t put us off in the least. We are ‘eternally hopeful’. But the game is frustration nevertheless, it is ‘frustration by any other name’ because our optimism, our confidence (the ‘positive’ frame of mind that we value so highly) is really just the denial of our despair, just as any positive statement is only ever the denial of the corresponding negative statement. This puts us in a psychologically ‘split’ situation where we have to live in constant denial of how things actually are in order that we might be able to believe in our unrealistic anticipation or projection of ‘how they might be’. All the denied stuff then proceeds to act against us from an unforeseen quarter, in the way that repressed psychological content always acts on the one who has done the repressing, and so this inevitable mechanism brings a whole range of negative projections into play, just to add another type of distress into the mix, along with the ever-present (if denied) underlying sense of pointlessness and frustration.
THE GAME OF DIMINISHING RETURNS
What we are basically trying to do in the split situation of the game (the situation that John G Bennett calls ‘the divided self’) is to cheat. We cannot obtain what we want via honest means since that is, was, and always will be a fundamental impossibility, and so if we want to live life in the vastly oversimplified format that is presented to us by the rational mind then we have to cheat. That is the only way open to us. Cheating works – after a fashion – in the short term but we are only ever playing a game of diminishing returns, which means that we keep on having to put more and more investment to get less and less back in return, until that fateful day arrives when for infinite investment, all we get back are infinitesimal returns. At this point we have hit the ultimate brick wall, we are ‘up against it’ – and what we are up against has no give in it, no leeway, no leniency. When this happens then the nature of the game changes and there is no more satisfaction or pleasurable anticipation to be had, no matter how illusory. From this point on the currency of euphoria does a nifty reversal on us and transforms into dysphoria, and we are locked into the most unwelcome business of repaying a loan that we never actually realized we were taking out. The dysphoria is every bit as illusory as the euphoria, but since we elected to believe in the former we also have to believe in the latter.
And even before the time comes when we have to pay back the loan in the grim coin of dysphoria, and the ‘benefit’ provided for us by the one-sided boundary, which excludes without letting on that it is excluding, is unceremoniously transformed into a liability, we are still being cheated. Even when everything seems to be going absolutely swimmingly, and we are thoroughly delighted with our lot (or at least reasonably satisfied), we are still being well and truly ripped off, and the reason for this is that everything within the protected domain of the one-sided boundary is like a backdrop for a film set – it has a front to it but no back, it is a polished façade with no interior behind it. Needless to say, this sort of statement doesn’t usually make any sense at all to us; my experience is that I am living solidly in the real world – if I look around me I see cars going by on the street, people walking by along the pavement, rows of buildings to either side of me, the sky up above me and the solid ground beneath me, and so on. If you then come along and tell me that I am actually living inside an over-simplified mental representation of the real world rather than the genuine article then this bold assertion is not going to ring true. And yet it would ring true, if I happened to be in ‘non-ordinary state of consciousness’ at the time when you told me this – a state of consciousness that is less hasty, less automatic, less blasé and superficial, and thus more capable of looking deeper into the nature of things than the habitual everyday mind can – or indeed, would even want to. If I was in a non-ordinary state of mind, a state in which I am not trapped within the prison of rationality, then I would probably smile and nod in agreement.
THE NON-ORDINARY MIND
Colin Wilson writes in one of his books that he remembers often feeling that the world he saw all around him was something of a hoax – that it wasn’t actually real but rather some sort of a joke that he couldn’t quite manage to take seriously. It was if the curtains were about to be pulled apart, revealing some deeper reality that is of a totally different nature to the one he was seeing in front of him. This strange feeling persisted for the author, even though the half-expected revelation failed to occur! We have all had moments of non-ordinary consciousness in which it might have seemed that some greater, inexpressibly more profound form of reality was about to manifest, or indeed did manifest, but such incidents are brushed aside and generally discounted or discredited one way or another by that intolerant and ‘overly sensible’ parent which is the everyday mind. We don’t give these moments any credence, we don’t give them any real consideration at all; excluding ‘non-ordinary’ states of consciousness is after all what the rational mind does best! But if rather than listening obediently to the tediously droning voice of the everyday mind as it tells us what exists and what doesn’t exist, what is real and what is only make believe, we were instead to take careful notice when such a moment does occur, then the first thing that we would notice is that the ‘definite declarations’ of the rational mind aren’t worth the paper they are printed on. At such times – as everyone who has had such an experience knows – what we normally think about the world doesn’t seem authoritative in the least. It sounds, on the contrary, pitifully vacuous and ludicrously unconvincing.
One way to try to explain what the all-important difference between the conceptually-mediated world that we experience on a daily basis and the ‘profound’ reality that this world somehow covers up is to speak in terms of resonance. This is a musical analogy: if something has a chamber inside it, a space within it, then it has the capacity of resonating, and so if I strike it then the sound that issues forth is not flat or dull or ‘tinny’ in character but – on the contrary – deep and rich and ‘resonant’. It is in other words entirely more pleasing to the ear then the other type, the ‘non-resonant’ type of sound – it is in fact musical. Objects in our world that are conceptually mediated, that are experienced via the rational-conceptual mind (which is generally our only way of experiencing stuff) have no space inside them and so cannot resonate. They are ‘what they are supposed to be and nothing more’ and so there is no space inside them for anything else. As a result they cannot partake in anything else – they are isolated, they are tinnily literal entities and their nature is as a consequence ‘non-musical’. The sound they make is flat, lifeless and harsh precisely because they do not participate in any wider reality then themselves.
Real-world objects – on the other hand – do have a deep and resounding spaciousness within them, which makes them non-literal. We could say that they ‘reach out beyond themselves’ rather than being ‘narrowly contained within themselves’, only in truth they don’t actually have a ‘self’ to reach out beyond because they don’t have a self to reach out beyond. They don’t have a ‘self’ because they are not constructed on the basis of boundaries; boundaries do not actually exist in the real world – they might appear to exist, on a superficial level, but the apparent divisions that we see hide a deeper unity, a deeper absence of division. So we could say that phenomena in the real world have an interior spaciousness to them, in other words, what they are in themselves is not defined. This essence of ‘not being definitely anything, but being possibly anything’ allows natural phenomena to resonate with the world at large. They are not the literal entities that we take them to be but rather they are symbolic – they symbolize an altogether deeper level of reality, a unity that cannot be expressed in definite terms. When we perceive the world in a symbolic rather than a literal way what we are perceiving is a very different kettle of fish to what we are used to, it is a different manner of beast entirely.
Speaking in relation to dreams, Carl Jung talks about a quality which he calls numenosity. A dream that is numinous is a dream that moves or disturbs us in a very profound way; it affects us more than anything produced by our dry rational mind ever could do, and on this basis we could say that it is more real than the everyday rational world that we are so thoroughly involved with, so heavily committed to. This sounds absurd – how could a dream be more ‘real’ than the waking reality? The answer of course is that in a dream the deadening filter of the rational-conceptual mind is very much less in evidence, and so we may often get to experience the actual reality of things rather than having to make do with ‘the cut-and-dried standardized interpretation of reality’, which is our usual fare. Reality by its very nature affects us. It affects us tremendously, and so if I find that I am not tremendously affected in this way in my everyday life then this simply means that I am not in contact with reality! I am in ‘contact’ with something else – I am in contact with a pale and bloodless simulation of the genuine thing, I am in contact with ‘the dull reflection of my own unexamined assumptions about the world’, and this naturally isn’t going to move me at all.
THE OVER-FLOWING VOID
It is not only dreams that can be numinous, our waking experience can be just as affecting, just as moving. In this case every thing we see and encounter is still what it normally is – the ground is still the ground and the sky is still the sky – but at one and the same time it is not ‘just’ what we know it to be. The world is not made up of flat literalities, or ‘ticked boxes’, but of living luminous symbols. Every single little thing – whilst remaining perfectly true to itself – at the same time speaks of some immense unknown reality; each element in our environment resounds, reverberates in some way so as to refer to something that we cannot catch hold with our senses. It could be said that rather than being empty or hollow, the ‘things’ that make up our world are full – though full of what it is impossible to say. They are full to the point of overflowing, like the horn of plenty, the Cornucopia of Greek myth. Our sense of time changes too, so that just as we ‘see the world in a grain of sand’ – as Blake says – we also behold ‘eternity in an hour’. The world seems all of a sudden like a wonderfully strange and achingly beautiful place, and not at all what we had lazily taken it to be. The world when see for what it truly is always catches us completely by surprise; it catches us napping, as it were, and leaves us shocked and speechless. Inasmuch as this is not the case (which it pretty much never is!) then this lack of strangeness, this lack of ‘inner spaciousness,’ this lack of overflowing plenitude, demonstrates that we are living in dreary seclusion behind the invisible boundary or filter of the rational mind.
WHEN THING IS NOT EQUAL TO ITSELF…
A handily abbreviated way of explaining this point is to say that within the one-sided boundary the definition of such-and-such an aspect of the universe always contains exactly what it is defined or described as containing, whilst outside of the this rational bubble, the aspect in question always contains far more than it is sign-posted as containing. When we say that the actual content ‘exceeds what it is stated as being on the label’ what we are talking about is a container that holds more than would appear to be the case from an intellectual or rational viewpoint. The container in question is therefore a vessel that is bigger on the inside than it is on the outside. Within the remit of ordinary experience this never happens, which means that we don’t actually have to check. Because the content is always exactly equal to the definition we don’t actually have to go any further than the definition – the content itself is ‘redundant’, therefore. Because the content is redundant, because there is nothing new to learn by looking in the box we don’t actually need to look in the box, and because we don’t need to look in the box we don’t. This is – of course – not a conscious decision or a conscious process and so if someone where to say to us that we live in a world of abstract thoughts, descriptions with no content, then we would almost certainly dismiss this idea without any further ado. When someone like Alan Watts comes along and tells us that we are like a carpenter who has done away with the need for wood altogether, and works entirely with measurements, with centimetres and millimetres, then this makes no impression on us at all. We just don’t get it. We don’t get it that when the designation equals the content then there is no content.
The ‘real life’ situation where what is in the vessel is so very much more than what is specified as being in vessel means that the actual definition, the ‘label,’ is reduced in significance to the level of a mere token. We might as well say that the label ‘could be anything’ – it wouldn’t make any difference what we wrote on it. The name is only a token for something else, a token for something that we simply cannot define. In the ‘logical’ realm created by the one-sided boundary this sort of thing just doesn’t happen – it isn’t allowed to happen. In this realm the only thing that counts is the definite description and what isn’t definitely described doesn’t get to exist. As far as the framework is concerned the very mark of ‘what it means to be real’ is the capacity to be defined, and so when something is defined then it has to adhere to this definition with absolute fidelity. There can be no such thing as vagueness, there can be no leeway whatsoever. Leeway is the one thing there isn’t in a logical system.
SET THEORY AND ‘THE RESTAURANT OF THE RATIONAL MIND’
This is really just another way of talking about set theory: If I define a set by way of a specific statement regarding what is to be in the set, then clearly only what I have specified gets to be in it. The specification (or ‘the rule’) is the set, in other words. The notion that something is produced when I call forth a set by saying something like “Let P be the set of all prime numbers” is therefore quite illusory; the set is the rule. Nothing new has been brought into existence.
So if we say that the specification equals the content then as we have already argued this means that there is no content. ‘Content’ means that we discover something that is not just a faithful echo of the label; it means that there is something else, something ‘other than’ the description. Speaking in terms of information, we can say that if information, W equals ‘the degree of unpredictability of the message’ (message meaning the same thing as ‘content’ in our discussion) then there is no information in this message. It contains no information because there is nothing unexpected in it. This being the case, we might as well keep things at the purely formal level of the rule because there is no development, other than a strictly linear development, when we enact it, when we ‘follow it through’ into what is supposedly reality.
In the real world, which is where things are what they are in themselves, rather than being what we define or describe them as being, there is a good deal more generosity involved; the portions are a hell of a lot better in this restaurant than they are in ‘the restaurant of the rational mind’. In fact in the restaurant of the rational mind, as Robert Anton Wilson says, we don’t get any portions at all – all we get is the menu! This is because the ‘supreme principle’ in reality is uncertainty (or space) whilst the sole guiding principle in the formal world of logic is certainty or definition. And the key point about definition is that doesn’t relate to space, it doesn’t apply to anything other than itself! We like certainty, it sounds good and solid and reliable – we know where we are with it. Uncertainty, on the other hand, sounds wishy-washy and feeble and thoroughly unscientific; it sounds weak and indecisive and not at all what we want to be relying on. How could anyone trust uncertainty? This bias against the indeterminate is however only to be expected seeing as we are looking at things from the perspective of the logical or rational mind, which is – naturally enough – distinctly prejudiced in this regard.
Certainty is only superficially solid and reliable, which is to say, it is solid and reliable only on its own terms. Actually, it is entirely vacuous because when we pin something down completely, with no fuzziness left in the picture at all, then what happens is that we lose the very thing that we thought we had pinned down. We lose it because we have thoughtlessly treated the element in question as if it were an independent entity, capable of being described in its entirety without reference to anything outside of itself, without including details of the rest of the universe. Definition is therefore a quintessentially ‘make believe’ type of a thing – it can’t be done in any real way because in the real world (as opposed to the formal world of our ideas) there are no absolute boundaries. Boundaries are the conventions that we use in order to simplify the world – they are our own projections and as such do not have any objective existence of their own at all. Despite the fact that they are only projections however we rely absolutely on them in order to gain purchase upon a reality which we would otherwise be completely impregnable to us in this regard; we rely totally on our imaginary boundaries for our sense of orientation in the world – so that we can know who we are and where we are and what we are doing and so forth. To put this more succinctly, we rely on our projected boundaries to make our thoughts, our positive assertions about the world, appear meaningful to us, where otherwise they would unfailingly appear as they actually are – they would appear as being quintessentially arbitrary and therefore quite ‘hollow’ in nature.
THE PROJECTED WORLD
Through relating to my own unacknowledged projections in a closed or unquestioning way I create for myself a positive world, a world made up of solid ‘facts’, a world of reliable certainties. Pride of place goes to that most unquestioned of certainties, my sense of myself as the centre of this world – at times the confident successful controller of all the variables I choose to rate as important, at other times the despondent and demoralized failed controller of these same variables. Certainty is always a two-edged sword in this regard – if I arbitrarily say that such and such a thing, such and such an outcome, is absolutely good (which is the essence of all game playing) then at the same time I have said that the failure to obtain the outcome is absolutely bad, and so to the extent that I am going to obtain pleasure and satisfaction from the first type of ‘made-up certainty’ I am going to reap bucket-loads of pain and frustration from the second type. And the irony is that I am only in this position because I have put myself in it, despite the fact that I am acting for all the world as if I have not chosen to be seeing the world this way. This is the self-imposed predicament of the divided self, which cannot see that for every UP there is a DOWN.
What is happening therefore is that in a very basic way I am being ‘too clever for my own good’ – I am saying that such-and-such an outcome is marvellous and wonderful so that I can then get to feel good when the outcome in question is achieved. But if the outcome is not achieved, if I lose the game instead of winning it, then I get to feel terrible instead. The two possibilities – me feeling great and me feeling terrible – are therefore the two edges of the same sword and cannot ever be separated. To give another example, if we all get together and say that one day in the year is a very special day and call it some name like ‘Super Special Happy Day’ then when the big day comes along we all feel elated and excited and everything is wonderful; the day afterwards however we are all deflated and down in the dumps because it is no longer Super Special Happy Day. There is always a back-lash to this sort of thing; if yesterday was a special happy day then, by definition, today is not a special happy day – today is a grey day, a nondescript day, a drab day, a day with nothing special about it at all. This is the time-honoured game of ‘loss and gain,’ the game we never ever get tired of. I nominate something or other as the valuable thing, the prize, and so I feel good when I win it. But what is held one day will be lost the next and so I am taxed in equal measure for my pleasure in the opposite coin of pain; overall I never win, but this doesn’t stop me buying into the game. As John G. Bennett says, the Divided Self can only ever see one opposite at a time and so it can’t ‘make the connection’.
The phrase ‘reducing life to a game’ sums up the oversimplifying mechanism of the rational mind in a nutshell: everything is simply converted into a question of the good outcome versus the bad outcome, ‘wonderful’ versus ‘terrible’, winning versus losing. Once this crude way of understanding the world is in place, then everything we see either falls into one camp or the other; everything is divided either into stuff that works for me or stuff that works against me. Just as a man who is very drunk tends to see everyone he meets either as a bosom pal or a deadly enemy, when I am under the influence of the ‘logical illusion’ produced by the one-sided boundary of the mind I see all the elements in my environment in terms of my rational agenda, whatever that may be. The ‘oversimplification’ that the drunk guy has made has to do with his own centrality in the overall scheme of things; he takes it for granted that everything is about him, in other words. Really – of course – all the people he comes across are neither one thing nor the other, they are neither bosom pals nor deadly enemies. They have nothing to do with him – they couldn’t care less either way. The drunk guy in our example has therefore got it all wrong as a result of his alcohol-induced over-simplification – it is not simply that he isn’t as important or as central as he takes himself to be, he isn’t important or central at all. Realistically speaking, the most he could hope for is that he would constitute a minor inconvenience to the people that meet him, a minor inconvenience which is promptly and thoroughly forgotten about the moment he is left behind.
THE GAME OF THE MIND
So one way of talking about the basic ‘oversimplification’ that takes place as a result of the information filter that is the everyday mind is to say that it involves a polarization of the world into good versus bad, right versus wrong. This polarity doesn’t really exist – it is an absurdly crude way of looking at things – but when we project it on the world it gives us a way of relating to that world, it gives us a basic modality of orientating ourselves within it. This polarization – which in Eastern philosophical terminology is known as duality – turns reality into a ‘game’. The other way of looking at the basic oversimplification is to say that it is the way in which we manage to take seriously (or ‘take for granted’) a certain very limited viewpoint, a certain very limited way of looking at the world and – via its built-in assumptions – allocate meaning to everything that happens to us. Both of these approaches come down to exactly the same thing: in the first case we are talking about the oversimplified world that we live in and in the second case we are talking about the oversimplified way we have of looking at things. In the first case we are talking about the game (which is to say, the world as it appears when we are playing the game) and in the second case we are talking about the awareness that is conditioned by the game, the mind that is conditioned by the invisible and therefore unquestionable rules of the game.
These ‘invisible rule-set’ is ‘the unacknowledged restriction’ that is responsible for creating and maintaining our conditioned (which is to say, oversimplified) world, or, more to the point, the invisible and unquestionable rule is the self, the ‘me’. The ‘unacknowledged restriction’ that I bring with me wherever I go and whatever I do is myself. Superficially, saying this sounds utterly ridiculous and not worth giving even a minute’s thought to; when we do reflect a little more deeply however, it makes perfect sense. It makes more than perfect sense – it makes absolutely stunning sense, if only we can see it. It makes far more sense than all of the stuff we normally think, which outside of the artificial confines of the one-sided boundary doesn’t actually make any sense at all. It makes so much sense that what normally makes sense to us no longer makes any sense at all. This is genuine open consciousness, as opposed to the informationally-collapsed, ‘worm’s eye view’ of the world afforded us by the everyday mind.
WORSHIPPING THE ‘GREAT GRASSHOPPER’
The stuff that we normally think – which constitutes ‘the familiar landscape of the everyday mind’ – only makes sense because we are looking at it in a very specific one-sided manner. Looking in a one-sided manner means that we are taking a particular, very limited angle as a basis for our looking, and then looking outwards from this basis, so to speak, without ever looking the other way, inwards, at this basis. Our modality of apprehending the world is one-sided therefore because it relies on a blind-spot and this blind-spot can only remain a blind-spot if I make sure never to look at it. What I am being deliberately blind to is the fact that my viewpoint is extraordinarily, fantastically, ridiculously limited; if I saw that I was taking a ridiculously limited viewpoint – like a man perversely peering out at a vast open plain through a tiny immovable aperture – then I would of course no longer be able to take the world-view that this limited viewpoint produces seriously. If I knew that I was looking at the vast open plain through a fixed and narrow aperture then I would not take what I see as being in anyway indicative or representative of what is really there. After all, how can narrowness tell me about the essential quality of the plain in front of me, which is its tremendous breadth?
All the aperture can show me is a very narrow band-width of the open plain, along with whatever details might happen to lie within that bandwidth. This distorts our understanding of reality – the particular details that lie within our narrow frame will naturally be granted more significance than they would be seen to warrant, if the full picture were to be seen. Suppose that a grasshopper were visible, clinging to a blade of grass. Outside of our limiting frame there are very many other forms of life ranging from tortoises to antelope, from butterflies to hippopotami, but all we can see is the grasshopper. We could quite conceivably therefore go down the road of investing this creature with very great importance – we might even deify the grasshopper and devise a theological schema within which this particular humble insect is seen as the Creator of the universe. We might then develop – over the years – a culture, a whole way of life that is based on the deification of the grasshopper. In this case the very meaning of our lives would be derived from this central ‘self-evident’ sacred theological truth – that the universe was created by the Great Grasshopper who continues to watch over us to makes sure that everything continues according to its Plan. But then, if one day for some fluky sort of a reason we were to catch sight of the whole plain, and all the thousands of different plants and animals that are to be found in it, then the meaning of our lives would be – at one stroke – laid waste to. The grasshopper still exists, along with the blade of grass that it sits upon, but the central significance of this detail is entirely and irretrievably lost.
It wasn’t the grasshopper that was the illusion, but the meaning that we put upon it. We assumed an ‘exclusive significance’ where in fact there was none and it is this exclusive significance (and the logical system or schema that is built upon it) that is the illusion. Our sense or understanding of ourselves depends absolutely upon that schemata being valid, and so what this means is that we have put ourselves in the remarkable situation where reality itself (or the open, unobstructed view of reality) is our deadliest enemy. We are dependent upon the narrow view of the world because that narrow view is what we have based our understanding of ourselves upon. We are therefore in love with narrowness, with pettiness, with ‘the small picture’. It is not that the details we see within our small picture would not be there then, but that they are not be so ‘special’ as we have made out. No disrespect to the grasshopper, but it isn’t special at all – after all, it is just one insect out of many tens of thousands of different species of insect that are out there, one single member of the animal kingdom, not to mention all the other types of living things that make their home in the great plain. And of course the grasshopper itself never asked to be put on a pedestal – it was us that did that.
ISOLATING THE SINGLE NOTE
From this story, or this analogy, it might look as if what we are doing is ‘glorifying the grasshopper’, which – whilst seeming rather foolish – at least does not appear to be totally vain or self-centred. But vain and self-centred is exactly what it is – by orientating our lives around the belief-structure which we have built around the myth of the sacred grasshopper we elevate ourselves at the same time we elevate our idol. Its glory is our glory. We create a bloated and over-inflated image which we then use to validate our particular modality or pattern of existence and so – as Krishnamurti says – what we are really doing is glorifying ourselves. The grasshopper itself is not ‘unreal’, what is unreal is the image that we have of it. In reality, it is not the stuffy, solemn, portentously inflated idol that we have made of it, it is something much freer, nimbler and ‘lighter’ than this. The little grasshopper we see through our aperture is but one minute part of an infinitely rich tapestry, a single transient note out of a whole complex orchestral movement. What the narrow aperture of the one-sided boundary does however is that it allows us to screen out all the other notes; the symphony is blocked out of our awareness so that all we know about is the one ‘allowed’ or ‘selected’ note. As we have said, this selection process alters the nature of the isolated note in a profound way – the original meaning of the note lay in its relatedness to all the other notes, its meaning derived from the fact that it wasn’t ‘isolated’ at all but an integral part of the diverse whole which is the full symphony.
Being an integral part of the overall movement of the symphony is like ‘having my say’ and then listening to hear what the next person is going to say in response. Speaking my piece and then being quiet so that someone else can then have their turn to speak their piece is what creates the possibility of a dialogue and the vital thing about a dialogue is of course that I allow a gap for this to happen. What I have to say is important but it is rendered meaningless straightaway if I fail to allow a gap so that someone else can speak. This ‘gap’ is the uncontrived silence that surrounds my words and which does not seek to block out any other viewpoint than my own. The temptation is to hold onto the glory, to hog the limelight and not let anyone else get a word in edgeways; a very crude example of this is when I don’t want to hear what you are saying and so I just keep saying “La la la la la…” loudly, over and over again, in order to block you out. Talking non-stop is a slightly subtler and much more generally used version of this strategy. The way the system of thought blocks out all other viewpoints is however infinitely more subtle, it is so subtle that without an unusual depth of perspicacity we simply won’t see it at all. What the system of thought does is to create a ‘false gap’ – it surrounds its utterances, its statements, with a silence that is not truly receptive, it surrounds its statements not with ‘unprejudiced space’ but with the continuum of logic.
The continuum of logic is like a silence that only accepts or only receives those signals that match its invisible assumptions. Thus – in everyday terms – it is the prejudiced or opinionated mind that will listen to what you have to say, but which will instantly and automatically judge (and therefore dismiss) anything that it doesn’t agree with. Talking about the ‘prejudiced or opinionated mind’ in this way makes it sound like this is an unusual way for a mind to be – it make it sound as if there are plenty of unprejudiced and un-opinionated minds out there. This of course is hardly the case – the rational mind is founded upon a specific set of rules (or assumptions) and could not continue for the briefest fraction of a second with out them. It could no more survive without its validating framework than an ice-cube could survive in hell.
Another way of explaining this would be to say that the rational mind has to operate on the basis of some sort of ‘ground’: ground is what I know beyond any question to be true – it is my bedrock, it is the raft of ‘self-evident truths’ that will convey me safely along the surface of the chaotic torrent of life without me ever having to actually get my feet wet. Without the ground, without the solid existential basis, there is no rational mind, and there is no deliberate and calculated approach to life. There is just the torrent. The ground which the rational mind relies on is not so much the mapped out territory that it always produces, as it is the ‘unquestionable framework of reference’ that it uses to produce the territory.
This unquestionable and therefore taken-for-granted framework is the false gap with which the system of thought surrounds all its statements, to make it look as if it is listening, to make it look as if it is actually open. This false silence or false gap is open in a sense, but only in a very limited sense – it is ‘open’ only to those statements, those signals, that agree with its underlying and invisible assumptions about the nature of reality. Qualified or provisional openness is of course not the genuine thing at all but an impostor – it is actually a filter or ‘selection device’. As Robert Anton Wilson says, we are floating around within an infinite ocean of signals but out of this boundless ocean we are interested only in a very narrow band, and this narrow band we use to construct ourselves and our world. We are therefore constantly ‘turning away’ signals that are not of the approved variety, without even knowing that we are doing so. We are surrounded by a filter of a subtle nature, a filter that looks to us like genuine, honest-to-goodness openness (or ‘space’), a filter that looks to us – so to speak – as if it just isn’t there at all.
The invisible filter does however let something through and because something is coming through we are permitted the delusion that we are not closed off, that there is no opaque barrier between us and the world. So to go back to our example of a man who thinks that he is open and fair-minded, and thinks that he is allowing everyone else to have their say, the invisible filter means that he genuinely does feel that he is open to all sorts of different ideas even though, behind the scenes, he has already made up his mind about everything and so he is never going to hear anything to cause him to change this fixed viewpoint. He goes through the charade of listening, he makes a kind of ‘derisory pretence’ to this effect, but this ‘effect’ is purely cosmetic in nature. It is only lip-service.
It would be a very rare thing indeed for me to go around actually feeling that I am closed to any viewpoint other than my own: on the one hand this accurate perception would feel unbearably suffocating, and on the other hand would make me aware of how unbearably limited my outlook is, and this perception of the limitation would in itself constitute a breach of the limitation. My position would be ‘untenable’; any awareness of the game spoils the game, as James Carse says. Thus the ‘theatrical appearance’ of open-mindedness allows me to feel that my thoughts, my ideas, my opinions – all the positive structures that go to make up my world – are actually valid, that they are solid and reliable because they have been ‘honestly acquired’ rather than ‘dishonestly obtained as a result of cheating’. The illusion of not being thoroughly biased or prejudiced allows me to think therefore that my thoughts and statements about the world are true and honest and not laughable, distorted nonsense. To put this bluntly, my lies will be believable (and therefore serviceable) to me only if I lie to myself about the fact that I am a liar. I can continue in the world made up of my lies only if I remain blissfully unaware of the fact that I am a liar.
In the same way, the illusion of openness produced by the trick which is the one-sided boundary allows me to perceive both myself and all the defined or categorized objects that I am constantly relating to as being genuinely real and not just ‘cardboard props’ that will instantly fall over if even the slightest breeze were to come along and stir them. The deeply (and even tiresomely) familiar conceptual landscape that is produced by the habitual, ‘everyday’ mind appears like something that deserves to be taken seriously in its own right, as being what it appears to be (or as being what it itself declares itself to be) only because of the specially protected artificial environment that allows or facilitates this illusion. The truth is therefore that when I am content to live my life entirely within the one-sided boundary of the everyday mind then the life that I am living is no more than a hollow fantasy. The objects that I relate to in this artificial, virtual reality world are ghosts, mere empty appearances; they are two-dimensional images that seem to possess depth but which in reality, as Wei Wu Wei says, ‘have an outside but no inside’. The depth is virtual depth, the content is virtual content.
Actual depth, actual content is a deadly toxin for the system of thought, it is a deadly toxin because it fatally destabilizes the whole set-up, it destroys the illusion that the abstract two-dimensional image is the thing itself, it destroys the illusion that its black-and-white categories actually correspond to self-existent, independent features of the outside world. When we do experience depth in our everyday lives, as we do from time to time despite the best efforts of the ‘flood barrier’ of the rational mind, then this almost always spooks us. It spooks us because it throws into question everything that we know, because it pulls our comfortable but well-worn rug away from under us. The only way the experience of depth won’t spook us is if we have in our daily lives cultivated an awareness and a curiosity in that other side of things, the side that no one in conventional society ever talks about. If we had cultivated such an awareness, such an ‘appreciation,’ then depth, when it comes, is welcome just as a breath of fresh air in a stuffy room is welcome. In this case depth comes as creativity, as a grace – in depth we glimpse the other, that which is not us, that which is not the rational mind.
In the absence of any intimation of the other, then the virtual depth (or the ‘virtual other’) which is provided by the operation of the one-sided boundary easily passes for the real thing. How could we possibly know otherwise, when we have never come across the genuine article (or rather, cannot remember having come across the genuine article)? Because of our naivety, our innocent gullibility in these matters, the system of thought generates a perfectly believable simulation for us, and just so long as no perspective is allowed into the picture the simulation will carry on being perfectly believable for us. It will operate as a perfectly satisfactory surrogate for genuine reality – at least on a superficial level, which is the only level that we are generally allowed to know about.
APPLYING THE STANDARD
In the most succinct terms, what we are talking about here is essentially an ‘immunological’ phenomenon. It is an immunological phenomenon because the logic of the system created by the one-sided boundary is all about ‘match’ and ‘doesn’t match’. Out of a big wide universe I pick only those signals that match my own make-up; my own make-up is ‘the given’, the taken-for-granted template. Why I have been given one make-up and not another is not a question that concerns me – my interest is concerned solely to the vastly narrower question of “Does it match or does it not match?” Stuff that matches is ‘right’ and stuff that doesn’t match is ‘wrong’ and that is all there is to it. That is all I am interested in. End of story. My mind is closed. The process doesn’t go any further than that. If I am talking to you and you keep saying stuff that doesn’t agree with my taken-for-granted viewpoint then I will keep telling you that you are ‘wrong’; if you try to argue that the standard I am using to evaluate whether what you are saying is ‘right or wrong’ is purely arbitrary, plucked out of the air, and not to be taken as an absolute basis then I will say that this is ‘wrong’ too. It is ‘wrong’ because what you are saying does not match with my template, my unexamined standard. The only way you can possibly be ‘right’ is if you agree with my template; there is no other way for me to accept what you are saying.
The one-sided boundary is the ‘narrow aperture’ which ensures that the system contained within it sees only what agrees with it. This means that not only the self but all of its objects, all of the positively-defined details which go to make up its world, are ‘the self’ in this over-all immunological sense, in the same way that all the members of a particular tribe or social grouping are ‘the self’ and in the same way that all the members of a particular political or religious movement are ‘the self’. Whatever matches is ‘the self’ and whatever doesn’t match is dismissed without any further ado and so the self – which is to say the system – only has congress with itself. The one-sided boundary, in other words, is all about ‘dismissing the other’.
The immunological self only recognizes itself and it lives in a world in which there is no ‘other’. The ‘other’ is after all on the other side of the one-sided boundary and the one-sided boundary doesn’t exist – not officially, anyway. This immunological self is very real, from its own viewpoint, and this in itself is highly peculiar because the whole thing, the whole set-up, is – very clearly – entirely tautological , entirely empty. Because of its essentially unreal nature the self has to be protected from reality; it has to be secluded and maintained within a scrupulously managed and tightly controlled ‘artificial environment’. This bizarrely artificial environment is provided, as we have been saying, by that peculiar ‘mental membrane’ which is the one-sided boundary – the peculiar thing here being that ‘a one-sided boundary’ can’t actually exist…
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.