The operation of entropy means that we are provided with a false version of ourselves, a ‘version’ which is characterized by a base-level of inescapable pain or suffering. If we wanted to talk about this in terms of ‘vibrational frequencies’ we could say that the operation of the law of entropy means that we establish a so-called ‘self’ which exists on a vibrational level of pain (or ‘heaviness’). Our very being – such as it is – equals suffering, in other words.
We might wonder how on earth this could work – how on earth do we manage to live like this, where our very being equals suffering? How do we cope? How do we function? What is the point in us doing anything or getting excited about doing anything if we feel crap the whole time? What’s the motivation to get out of bed in the morning? The point is however that having a base-level or default level of existence that is painful or unpleasant provides us with the basis for playing all sorts of games, games in which we allow ourselves to believe that we are escaping from the pain, or that we stand a chance of escaping for the pain. The fact that our starting-off point is painful / disagreeable provides us with a basic motivation for the type of goal-orientated activity that has a secret agenda, in other words. This equates to what is sometimes called ‘pseudo-solution’ – we do whatever we’re doing for an overt reason (which is whatever it is) whilst unbeknownst to ourselves we’re trying the whole time to solve a problem that we can’t admit to ourselves.
The most straightforward game would be where we imagine ‘value’ to exist outside of ourselves. We then formulate a plan of obtaining and securing this value and this provides us with a rationale for certain prescribed types of behaviour (types of behaviour which will supposedly enable to do this). The underlying tropism here is ‘the movement from pain to less pain’, which translates into the basic behaviour tropism towards pleasure or satisfaction. Chasing pleasure (or avoiding pain) constitutes our motivational system therefore and the pleasure comes about either when we imagine ourselves to have secured some sort of ‘value’ that exists outside ourselves, or when we allow ourselves to fantasize pleasantly about how we might secure this value’.
This ‘rationale for behaviour isn’t of course particularly hard to understand but the immediate problem that we come up against here is that it is all happening on a false basis. In real terms, there is no external value for us to secure. What we do to get around this however is to ignore the base-line of pain that we cannot get away from and create a ‘phantom value’ which is the situation where the pain is no longer there. This is an unacknowledged strategy on our part however because we cannot allow ourselves to see that this is what we are doing without making ourselves aware that our base-line is pain, and so what we do is to stick this phantom value (which is a ‘virtual currency’) onto something else (onto some prescribed goal or other) so that it then becomes perfectly legitimate and above-board. The problem that we are ignoring here is the impossibility of us ever solving the problem in a real way – if after all the base-level of our (conditioned) existence is one of irredeemable pain or suffering then what is the point of putting a lot of effort into running somewhere else? If I am identified with a particular state of being, a particular self, whose nature has the quality of a certain degree of suffering to it, then needless to say it doesn’t matter where I run to – I am that same old conditioned self wherever I run to and that ‘self’ always equals pain.
This isn’t a problem as far as playing the game is concerned however, for reasons that we have just gone into. It isn’t a problem as far as the unacknowledged rationale for our purposeful behaviour is concerned; it isn’t a problem as far as our motivational system is concerned. We can move (temporarily) from a place of pain to a place of less pain and this will equal ‘pleasure’ or ‘relief’ or ‘satisfaction’ or ‘vindication’ or ‘euphoria’ and this is the (virtual) currency that we are using to run our economy on. This apparent benefit doesn’t come without a penalty attached however – a penalty that comes into fruition later on. What is essentially happening here therefore is that there is ‘an appearance of a benefit’ that later on reveals itself to be the exactly opposite of a benefit. The virtual currency that the economy is based upon is in other words duplex in nature – it provides us with pleasure to the exact same extent that it provides us with pain later on. It’s like a sweet that tastes wonderfully sweet when we first start sucking on it, but which turns horribly sour or bitter later on…
The conditioned self that is created by the operation of entropy can never reach a state of ‘permanent enjoyment’ in other words, but it can (and does) believe that it can! It is not necessary for the game to continue that the self actually can enter into a state of permanent enjoyment only that it should be provided with the believable illusion that it can do so. And given that we are so very keen to believe in this particular illusion, it doesn’t even need to be that plausible. We aren’t going to be looking that deeply into it! The ironic thing is however that if pleasure or satisfaction really were to be a permanent thing (a product that never tarnishes or grows old) then this would in fact be the end of the game. That would be like the urban myth of the company that brings out the knife that never needs sharpening or the car engine that runs on water or the battery that never runs out – this sort of thing is so clearly self-defeating from a commercial point of view that no commercial entity would ever do it! No corporation would ever be silly enough to bring out such a product.
Just as consumerism is predicated upon inbuilt obsolescence, so too is the game of the conditioned self predicated not just upon the general shortage of euphoric or ‘satisfied’ states of mind, but also on the fact that they are quintessentially fleeting in nature. That’s what keeps us in the market for them, that’s what keeps us hungry. That’s what keeps us running around and around on the hamster wheel. As is the case with buying any sort of a product, the satisfaction is no sooner there than it is moving away again, disappearing off into the distance again. Euphoria is quintessentially slippery – its slips out of our hands the very moment we think we have a grip on it. it is a phantom that always gets away and that is why we are so hungry for it. That’s why we are as absolutely insatiable as we are…
It’s not just the case that pleasure or euphoria (i.e. the satisfaction of winning) is transient. We could point out that just because something is transient doesn’t mean that it isn’t real. Everything is transient, after all! It’s not that that we’re saying that euphoria is transient but rather that its nature is such that it has the appearance of something rather than any genuine content. Euphoria is a mirage – when we’re chasing after it it looks very real indeed but this reverses neatly on us later on. As soon as we reach it the euphoria vanishes and appears somewhere ahead of us, and not only this but the pleasant feeling that we were enjoying switches around and becomes an unpleasant feeling instead – the joy of winning becomes the feeling of loss, the feeling of disappointment. This is the nature of the wheel that we are caught upon: pleasure gives way to pain and so the more we chase the pleasure the more we are chasing the pain that follows it. We’re always hungry and we’re always chasing after the phantom fulfilment; the hunger, we might say, is real, but the fulfilment is not. Actually – if only we could see it – the seductive promise of fulfilment is nothing other than our own insatiable hunger reflected back at us in disguised form – as an externalized projection it looks like an actual positive value whilst really it is nothing more than the imagined cessation of the intolerable pain of need. The prize we are running after so doggedly is therefore simply our own hunger turned into a ‘positive projection’ by our inability to see it both for what it is and for where it is.
Saying that the hunger is real (on a practical if not an ultimate level of reality) but the imagined fulfilment is not is just another way of saying that the state of being which we are generally identified with is inherently and inescapably painful. Rather than experience this pain where is belongs – in ourselves – we experience it outside of ourselves, in terms of our positive and negative projections. Instead of perceiving ourselves as we actually are – mere two-dimensional shadows flitting around here and there – we exist in a state of compulsive identification with these attractive and repellent mental projections. This absorbs us completely – it absorbs us so completely that we don’t have any attention left over to notice how completely absorbed we are! All of our attention is absorbed (or ‘captured’) by the circus of mental projections and the result of this is that we end up being controlled by our own projections without knowing that we are being controlled. Instead, we exist in a state of delusion in which we falsely imagine ourselves to be in control (or to have the possibility of being in control).
Fixating upon attractive or repulsive projections is the same as being controlled by them but – as we have just said – because there is no awareness left over to look at what is going on in any other way than the prescribed one we have no way of knowing that we are being controlled. Instead, it seems to us that the desire we are experiencing towards the attractive projection is a manifestation of our own free will, just as it seems to us that that dislike or repulsion we feel towards the negative projection is our actual true volition and not merely an external compulsion. It might sound odd (it does sound a lot more than just ‘odd’ to the conditioned mind) to suggest that our everyday psychological situation is one in which we are being controlled by our own mental projections whilst imagining but this isn’t as strange or unusual a thing as it might at first seem. This is no different to what happens every time we play a game – we allow our thinking to be defined for us by the game so that ‘winning’ seems like the thing we most want to do, even though it is an idea that only means anything within the context of the game. When we play a game the desire to win seems like our own free will just as the aversion to losing does, but this is simply because we have let the game ‘tell us what we want’…
When we are playing a game we don’t have ‘a mind of our own’, we don’t have any independent or unconditioned awareness. It wouldn’t be a game otherwise. Instead, we have ‘the mind of the game’, which is a way of looking at things which has been totally defined by the rules of the game – what the rules of the game see as important we see as important and what the rules don’t pick out as being important we don’t see at all. And as we have already indicated, what keeps the game going is the way in which we are always looking outside of ourselves, the way in which we are always living outside of ourselves, in the conditioned reality that has been created by the game. We are compelled to live outside of ourselves (so that the external domain which is the game is the only thing which is real to us) for as long as we remain unwilling to see the reality of our situation. The fact that we are denying the pain of us being the way that we really are drives us into this life of compulsive exteriority; if we want to keep on avoiding this painful awareness then there is simply no other choice open to us – all the good stuff (along with all the bad stuff) has to be seen as existing on the outside, in the ‘defined realm’ of the game. The undefined realm – which is who we really are – has become something that we become incapable of being aware of.
Just to reiterate yet again how this mechanism works – when we turn our backs on the pain which is inherent in our very way of being (our conditioned way of being) then this pain, the pain that we are denying, doesn’t go away (obviously enough!) but what does happen to us is that it gets turned into an ‘external polarity’, i.e. the polarity of pleasure versus pain. Pleasure is when we manage to successfully avoid the truth of our situation, and pain is when are not able to be successful in avoiding this truth. The game that we are playing is therefore the game of saying everything is OK when it isn’t – winning is when we are able to do this convincingly and losing is when we aren’t. Even when we have failed to avoid seeing that everything isn’t OK this isn’t the end of the game however because we still aren’t seeing the truth properly – we haven’t avoided the pain but we’re still not seeing the pain where it belongs, we’re still not seeing the pain as belonging to us. The game we’re playing is in no way jeopardized therefore because as far as we are concerned it still exists outside of us and as long as it exists outside of us it can be refused and ‘trying to refuse the pain’ is what the game is all about. When things go wrong therefore we become irritated, frustrated, angry, embittered, resentful, and so on and all of these mind states are based upon the perception that we have been ‘hard done by’, i.e. the perception that the suffering on question has been unfairly visited upon us. In this way the integrity of the game is persevered, even when we’re losing.
But suppose that all our anger and frustration is directed inwards instead if outwards? Suppose that we feel the fault is ours and that we actually do deserve all the pain and suffering? Is it not the case then that we are ‘owning’ the pain and that we are as a result no longer in denial of our true situation? Is the game now over? The answer to these questions is however a resounding ‘no’ because we’re still playing the same old game – we’re still playing the same old game because we’re still identifying with the false self. We’re just identifying negatively now instead of positively. Feeling the pain that is there is one thing but blaming myself for being a bad person or failure is not feeling the pain. Judging or blaming is not the same thing as ‘feeling the pain’ – it is in fact us avoiding the pain, strange as this may sound. What we’re talking about here is ‘reacting’ and reacting is always about shutting the door on pain. By blaming myself I am objectifying myself – I am making myself into an ‘object’ or thing’ that I can kick around the place (much like a football). But the thing about this is that I am not this object or thing and so I am in the act of self-blaming or self-judging avoiding the truth of the situation just the same as I do when I blame or judge someone or something else.
When we resist or run away from pain we automatically create a self. Either we create the ‘loser self’ or the ‘winner self’ ; either we create the self which is cocky and smug and full of itself and its own right to do whatever it wants or we create the self which is eaten up with self-doubt and self-recrimination, the self which feels that it doesn’t deserve any good things to happen to it. When on the other hand we allow ourselves to feel the pain that is inherent in our inner state without any judgements of right or wrong, without any automatic resistance, then this does not trap us in any type of a self. Allowing ourselves to unreservedly feel the pain doesn’t on the face of it seem to be a particularly good idea –our automatic impulse is to avoid the pain so of course ‘not avoiding’ doesn’t seem like a good idea. And yet – contrary to all our programming, all our conditioning, all our automatic tendencies – it is avoiding the pain that is the ‘bad idea’ because when we avoid we get trapped in a self that isn’t who we are. Being trapped in ‘a self which isn’t who we are’ means being controlled by our own positive and negative projections without knowing that we are being controlled. Instead, we deludely think that we are in control, that we are in charge or what’s going on, that we are being ‘autonomous’! We’re unfree without knowing that we’re unfree, and this is the inevitable consequence of avoiding seeing the pain of our inner state. We create a level of removal or abstraction from the actual situation and then we get trapped in it. We get trapped in it simply because there is no freedom in it – there is no freedom in it because there is no freedom in an abstraction! There is only freedom in reality…
This is where entropy comes in: entropy is the process by which information is irreversibly lost from a system and each time we remove ourselves from our inner state (each time we abstract ourselves from the actual reality) we are losing information. The direction of creating abstract realities is the direction of increasing entropy and in practical terms this means ‘being limited without having the capacity to know that we are’. This capacity (which is the capacity to be unfree without knowing that we’re unfree, or the capacity to be in a false reality without being able to see that we are in a false reality) is of course the key ingredient that is needed if we are to ‘play a game’. Or as we could equivalently say – being unfree without knowing that we are (or being in a false reality without seeing that this is the case) is the very same thing as being trapped in a self that isn’t who we really are. This is what the conditioned self IS – it is the state of being controlled without knowing that we are being controlled.
When we don’t react against pain that is inherent in the mind-state then although there is this pain we are not trapped in the (pseudo-) self that is reacting against it. So what this means is that our whole way of looking at the world changes; it changes not just in a little way but rather in a way that is completely and incomprehensibly unprecedented. We discover that we are not the self we thought we were and what could be a bigger change than this? When we run from the pain then we’re trapped in a self that isn’t really us and – furthermore – we don’t really truly even get away from the pain that we’re trying to run away from anyway. We just end up playing a game of hide and seek, a game of denial. We are able to temporarily pretend to ourselves that the pain isn’t there but then we have the new pain of having to continually put effort and ingenuity into keeping the game going! The best we can hope for is a brief holiday from the pain; a brief holiday from the pain of knowing that the pain is there and that our only option is to keep on trying to deny this fact to ourselves.
This is a peculiar situation. We’re ‘on a holiday from the pain’ but the price for this holiday is that we have to believe that we are this defined and therefore limited self. We have to believe that we are this false self (this ‘self-which-we-are-not’) and this false self is characterized by a particular type of pain that we can never get away from just so long as we believe that we are it. The false self IS a particular type of pain! This then means that we have no option (if we are to continue playing the game of denial that is) but to put all our effort into avoiding the pain that is inseparable from the self which we are compelled to identify with if we want to take a holiday from the original pain. This therefore locks us into an in infinite regress.
The false self that we are compelled to identify with is a vibration that is taking place on a painful frequency, so to speak, and so straightaway we can see that this doesn’t sound like a particularly great ‘holiday’ from the pain. There is a type of possibility here (in a very provisional sort of a way) for escape and that possibility lies in the capacity of the false self to remove itself from its own situation via a form of ‘fantasy escaping’. This fantasy escaping works after a fashion (it works just so long as we are able to successfully delude ourselves) but it comes with a price-tag, which is ‘extra additional suffering on top of the original’. What we’re talking about here isn’t really a great solution to anything, therefore! We’re escaping into ‘pain that we can’t see to be pain’. We escaping into pain which we can’t directly see to be pain but which we nevertheless need in turn the need to escape from, albeit in some kind of unacknowledged way. So on an unconscious level we are trying to escape and at the same time we have to believe (also unconsciously) that we can escape. Another way of putting this is to say that we’re escaping into ‘the system’, escaping into ‘the game’ and the system (or game) is a fundamentally deceptive situation.
The system is ‘deceptive’ simply because it doesn’t allow us to see that the pain is in us and that – for this reason – we can never get away from it. Instead, the system presents us with a set-up (which we take to be actual reality) in which we are confronted with the starkly contrasting possibilities of ‘succeeding’ or ‘failing’, ‘winning’ or ‘losing’. This is clearly a totally delusory way of looking at things because if the pain is in me (as it always will be just so long as I am tied to a defined and therefore limited sense of self) then what possible meaning is there in this apparent dichotomy between success and failure? Winning is not really winning any more than losing is losing. We chase after this ‘thing’ (this lure) for all we’re worth but the only way we can obtain it (or rather the only way we can get to imagine that we can obtain it) is by putting ourselves under another level of confusion, another level of self-deception, another level of ‘enchantment’…
What we’re actually doing here is that we are ‘removing ourselves from reality’ by another level each time. We remove or abstract ourselves in order to escape from the pain but by doing this we are actually creating more pain down the line. We’re accumulating pain because – as we have already said – the more removed or abstracted from reality we become the more suffering we incur as a result. The more abstracted the state of being, the more pain there is in that state. This pain then necessitates us removing or abstracting ourselves even further, which is the regression we spoke of earlier. Instead of seeing ourselves as fleeing the pain however we see ourselves as ‘chasing the prize’. As we have just said, the only way we can fulfil ourselves in this regard (in whatever virtual fashion) is by creating another abstract level of reality (i.e. by removing ourselves yet further from actual reality) but although this tactic can be successful on a trivial (or virtual) level what we are actually doing with our manoeuvring is chasing pain…
The complementary way of looking at this is to say that the operation of the law of entropy means that we keep on creating new ‘selves’, each of which exists on a ‘lower vibrational level’, each of which is associated with a greater degree of pain. Because the inescapable logic of the mechanical self is that it has to do whatever it can in order to avoid the pain (and because the only thing it can do in order to avoid the pain is to remove itself yet further from what is going on) all it can ever do (perversely enough from its own point of view!) is to keep on moving in the direction of increasing pain and increasing denial of the pain. The mechanical self is locked into this process. There is no way out of this downwards trajectory for us as long as we are operating on the basis of this logic, which is the only logic that the mechanical mind can understand.
So the operation of entropy means that we are provided with a false version of ourselves, a version which is characterized by a particular level of pain, but not only does entropy do this, it keeps on moving on (or rather regressing) and producing cruder and cruder versions of who we are, version upon version where each version is a degenerate copy or analogue of the one that preceded it. Each version has more and more pain associated with it, and is obliged therefore to engage in cruder and cruder games, cruder and cruder manoeuvres, in order to (theatrically) escape from it. The more degenerate the analogue the greater is the degree of pain that is going to be involved in being trapped in it. Each ‘self’ is a harsher prison, we could say. If we were given to philosophical speculation we might wonder where this regressive process ends? Does it end? How much suffering is it possible to accumulate as a result of stubbornly adhering to the road of denial?
Stubborn adherence to the road of denial is after all the inevitable lot of the mechanical or conditioned self, as we have already said. An end point is inherent in this process, we may say, because as the degree of pain associated with the crude analogue of the self increases, the amount of scope we have with regard to ‘theatrical escaping’ decreases. Eventually a point is reached at which the pain that we have accrued can no longer be dodged or displaced and at this point taking a holiday from the pain is no longer viable. Because the ‘pain-dodging’ or ‘pain-displacement’ is no longer viable, the mechanical self is no longer viable since this self only gets to exist because of the way in which it is able to distract itself from the pain which IS itself!
The direction in which the entropic process is leading us is to the point of maximum predictability (or ‘zero freedom’) – increasing predictability is after all what entropy is all about. The entropic gradient, when we slide down it, is taking us to the place where there is zero freedom, zero information and this naturally sounds like very bad news! But it is also true that there is no such thing as zero freedom, zero information. Zero freedom equals zero reality, and there is no such thing as zero reality! When we go down the entropic slippery slope we become ‘virtual’ rather than real. We become fictional. We become unreal and this creates great pain which we will eventually have to contend with. On the other hand, it is also true that the process of becoming unreal is itself unreal (i.e. it is a virtual rather than a real process). It’s a ‘virtual process’ because – ultimately speaking – reality can never be degraded! ‘Reality-degradation’ never actually happens – it only seems to…
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.