The self lives in a world of regularities, or ‘routines’ – it has to live in a world of routines, of regular patterns because its own nature is that of a regularity, and if it does not get validated by a world that is a reflection of its own expectations, its own presumptions, then it cannot continue to exist…
This is – needless to say – a very bizarre situation! The self has to live in a world that is made up of regularities (or ‘rule-based patterns’) because it itself is a regularity, because it itself is a rule-based pattern. And because the regularities that make up the world which the regular self lives in are a faithful reflection of that same self this means that the self is validating its own existence, maintaining its existence, perpetuating its existence by establishing some sort of a relationship with its own reflection…
In order to continue successfully validating its own existence the self has to fight against the undefined, the uncertain, the ‘unresolved’. It must also be in control of what is going on so that what is going on accords with its definite beliefs regarding what it thinks should be going on, what it wants to be going on. The self and the need to control are therefore inseparable, and so we can say that there is no such thing as a self which is not forever trying to control what is going on around it.
Control is of course secondary to evaluation because unless we know what is right and what is wrong then we don’t have the basics to start controlling since controlling means trying alter all the relevant variables so that they accord with the one rather than the other. In order to evaluate we must have a model or theory of the universe (an idea or concept of it) and so the idea always comes first. An ‘idea’ is made up of a particular arrangement of mental categories and ‘mental categories’ are quintessentially regularities. They have to be regularities because they would serve no purpose if they weren’t – if a category were un-standardized (so that what is going to be in it is different every time) then there would be absolutely no point in having that category (or ‘class’) in the first place…
If I came up with some kind of category or class that wasn’t based on fixed rules or criteria (a ‘random’ category, so to speak) then there is no way that this can be of any use to me since I would never have the slightest clue either as to what might be in the category, or what might not be in it. This is like having a word that could mean anything at all, a word that never means the same thing twice! In the same way, the ‘irregular’ or ‘non-systematic’ category would not be able to tell me anything and so, as we have said, there would be absolutely no point in having it.
So the conceptual mind works on the basis of regular categories (which is to say, it operates in a systematic or rule-based manner) and this naturally means that it is only interested in those elements that correspond to these regularities. Because our ideas are necessarily of a ‘regular’ character therefore, it has to be the case that so too is the world which we understand ourselves to live in. But the catch here, as any decent psychologist would straightaway tell you, is that the world which we believe ourselves to live in is nothing other than our own understanding projected out onto the world.
The consequence of this – which we do not of course see – is that when we attempt to control the world what is really happening is that the rule-based mind is trying to convert the world into a reflection of itself, a carbon-copy version of itself. The mind wants to replicate itself, and this is its motivation in all things – this is the driving force behind its activities. ‘Controlling’ equals ‘copying a taken-for-granted template’. Insofar as the rule-based mind is able to achieve its goals we can say that it is – at least in some limited way – able to self-replicate, but even when it is not able to actualize its goals the thinking mind is still in control because it is in control of what the world means. So whatever happens in that world, the one thing that we know for sure is that it will be fitted into some standardized pattern of mental categories or other. It will be understood within the established format that we have for understanding things. This really is the ultimate form of control – nothing can get away from this! Everything we perceive, everything we implicitly understand as being ‘true’ is at root no more than a regularity that exists somewhere within the pattern of regularities which is the rational mind…
The interpreting mind can therefore be seen as a kind of a bubble, a ‘bubble of filtered reality’ within which we live our lives. Calling it a bubble of filtered reality is actually making too much of it since it does not ‘filter’ reality (i.e. let in a portion of what is real and exclude the rest) so much as it represents reality exclusively within its own definite terms, its own definite language. Uncertainty is thus converted into certainty; the unique is rendered in terms of the standardized, in terms of the regular. This isn’t simply a case of ‘filtering’ therefore because we have actually created our own ‘special’ type of reality, a reality based solely upon the currency of our formal constructs. The interpreting mind does not filter reality, it synthesizes it.
A formal construct is a construct that we can know all about, a construct which only means – therefore – what it is said to mean, what it has been defined as meaning, what it has been designed to mean. There is no part of the formal construct (i.e. the definite statement) that does not make sense within the framework of interpretation which has given rise to it. There is no part of the construct that is ‘hidden from view’, and for this reason we can say that a formal system is fundamentally different from undesigned reality, from reality ‘as it is in itself’.
There is no ‘certainty’ in reality as it is in itself, no possibility of knowing anything in an ‘exhaustive’ fashion in a ‘real world system’. There can’t be because this whole business of being certain or being defined only comes about when we compare the incoming raw data with our established mental categories, with our ‘data-processing rules’, and determine for ourselves thereby that either there is a ‘fit, a ‘match’, or there isn’t. When the incoming information matches our rules, our criteria, then the result is what we call ‘certainty’ – i.e. the definite identification of some element in the world with our conceptual categories. The box gets to be ticked and that’s the end of the matter.
The effect of making this identification is very reassuring for us from an ontological point of view, but it is an empty business really because as we have said when we interpret information as being meaningful rather than being mere noise this is only because that information is echoing our pre-existent categories of thinking. We are projecting our own patented form of order onto the world, and then using what we see as a result of following our own guidelines as validation that our guidelines are correct, that our form of order is ‘the right one’.
This is of course an utterly ridiculous sort of a thing because I am responding to my own mental projections as if they were independently existing phenomena in the outside world. They are real only because I have agreed to see them as real and yet because I utterly ignore my own role, my own involvement, in this process, I get to disown my projections entirely and see them as having nothing whatsoever to do with me. To put this simply, I am pretending that something is so when it isn’t. I am living in a world of ‘make-believe’. I am playing a game – the game of believing that things are whatever I name them as being, or evaluate them as being. This game is totally ubiquitous and – at the same time – it is one that no one will admit to.
When we identify some element in our environment so as to say that it definitely is this, or that it definitely is that, this comes so naturally to us that we never see what we’re doing – we never see that we are making a comparison with a system which we ourselves have devised. We just assume that whatever we’re looking at, simply ‘is’ whatever we think it is, all by itself, with no effort or connivance on our part. When attention is drawn to this habitual process then it is exposed as an utterly nonsensical thing to do – let alone invest in to the extent that we do – but the point is that our attention never is drawn to it, we just skip to the end-point of the comparison-making process and blithely accept whatever pops out at the other end as being unquestionable fact. ‘Certainty’ to us is not a manufactured commodity, not a game we play, but something that really does exist out there in the world all by itself, and the only way we get to believe this is by being wholly unconscious about the process by which we go about creating it.
All of our knowledge about the world is categorical knowledge – without our categories, without our assumed template, without our taken-for-granted system of classification we would know nothing at all, not even one thing. This is so obviously true, and yet at the same time it is extremely unlikely that you will ever find a single person who will admit it! We have no interest in seeing that our names and our categories only belong to us and our way of thinking, that they don’t actually exist in the real world.
The question is, when we don’t create all this spurious categorical certainty for ourselves by comparing the world to our assumed framework, then what is left? When we don’t impose our own particular form of order on the world around us, and then relate exclusively to this overlay, then what exactly would that world look like? If – just for the sake of the argument – we didn’t habitually use the assumed framework to determine what is real and what is unreal, what is ‘signal’ and what is ‘noise’, what is worth taking notice of and what isn’t, then in what way would we be aware of the world?
This question isn’t really that hard to answer. When we look at the world without imposing our regular old mind upon it, in the way that we always do, then what we see of course is an irregularity rather than a regularity – a ‘one off’ rather than just ‘more of the same’, a unique event rather than just another box that has been ticked. When we look without bringing the categorical mind into play we are aware of a ‘psychic datum’ – so to speak – that hasn’t been manufactured, that hasn’t been created via the tried-and-trusted mechanism of ‘comparing the unknown to the known’ and which therefore, stands alone. It is what it is, but there is no way of saying what it is, or knowing what it is, because in order to say what it is we would have to compare it to something else (something which we imagine to have some kind of independent validity). But because there is nothing else apart from this stand-alone reality that simply ‘is what it is’, the whole business of ‘generating categorical knowledge’ is never at any time going to be any more than a profoundly empty exercise! We might get by perfectly well in life thinking that our categorical knowledge is real, but it isn’t; we might function perfectly well on the basis of this ‘assumed knowledge’, but this doesn’t mean that is in any way meaningful in the bigger picture of things.
It is of course true that the physical, tangible universe is founded upon a particular set of regularities – these are the natural laws and constants that have been so painstakingly elucidated by theoretical and experimental physics. It is also true that there exist a veritable host of mathematical constants, which may or may not have a bearing on the processes occurring in the physical world. It doesn’t seem right, therefore, to assert – as we have done – that regularities cannot be used as a genuinely meaningful basis to understand the physical world.
The point is however – as is well known to any student of Eastern metaphysics – that there has to be a differentiation between the two realms of relative and absolute truth. Within the context of any particular game it is of course possible to have such a thing as relative truth. Once a context has been assumed, then relative truth exists in relation to this context, and a whole edifice of ‘valid statements and inferences from these statements’ can be erected upon this basis. Outside of the assumed context, the assumed framework, however, none of these truths have any special validity whatsoever and this is because they are at root no more than a reflection of the assumed logical framework. We think that the rules we are adapted to are more valid than all the other possible rules but this is only because they happen to be the rules that have been enshrined within the particular game we are playing – which we don’t happen to see as being a game.
It is of course demonstrable that we can discover certain truths about the structure of the physical universe by looking at it from the standpoint of certain internalized or taken-for-granted rules – this standpoint being what we generally refer to as ‘the rational mind’. What we usually find quite impossible to appreciate is that there is absolutely zero information content to what we see when we look at things this way. We are can’t appreciate – in other words – that the ‘truths’ which we have discovered are only valid within the particular framework of rules which this universe is based upon. This is something that we are constitutionally indisposed to seeing for the simple reason that we are so very comfortable (or ‘secure’) in being psychological adapted to this particular framework – as if it were the only possible way in which things could be.
The rational mind is bound to assume that the rules upon which it is based – the rules which it takes for granted in order to be able to make sense of the world – are the rules upon which reality itself is based. If it didn’t assume this then it wouldn’t be able to believe in its own statements as being meaningful – if it didn’t assume this then it might as well pack the whole thing in! What it is incapable of seeing – therefore – is that reality is not predicated upon rules at all, but the antithetical principle, which is the principle of symmetry, or openness. ‘Openness’ means that all possibilities are equally allowed; rules – on the other hand – are always closed because, by their very nature, they don’t allow everything equally. Rules permit one possibility and refuse all the rest.
Rules always create disymmetries because they rule for one thing and against all others. They rule for one specific possibility and against all the other possibilities, against all the possibilities that haven’t been specified. The symmetrical state – which is reality – can’t be created by a rule, therefore. In fact it can’t be created at all. Reality is an uncreated state – it is that which has not been designed or planned or manufactured or in any way ‘contrived’ or ‘brought about’. Reality is what is there before we started doing anything, before we started thinking about anything or trying to control or manipulate or organize the situation in any way.
When stated like this, it can be seen that this is a very clear way of talking about reality because we are not imposing our own categories, our own assumptions upon it. What we are saying is that it is the origin, the source from which all things issue, and as such is beyond all types of limiting factors such as ‘space’ and ‘time’. So when we say that reality is symmetrical in its nature, that it is ‘the state of original symmetry’, all that we are saying is that there is no rule behind it, that it was not created or constructed on the basis of a rule. As we have said, rules always divide, they always ‘split’ or ‘fragment’ and so the one thing they can never do is give rise to the undivided reality, the undifferentiated reality, the unfragmented reality.
Rules are not creative therefore – they are not something from which a diverse or all-inclusive reality can blossom. In Stanislav Grof’s terminology, rule-based processes are not holotropic – they do not take us in the direction of wholeness – but rather they are hylotropic – they take us in the direction of the part, the category, the fragment.
From the rule comes only the rule, never anything that is in any way ‘more than the rule’. It is a linearity, a mechanical regularity – the same thing extended infinitely into the future. Saying that the rule is a linearity is another way of saying that it has ‘zero information content’ – saying that it never gives rise to anything new, that it can never lead to anything unexpected is another way of saying that it has zero information content. The whole point of a linearity is that is doesn’t contain any information – that there is no ‘becoming’ in it, no creative element in it! Henri Bergson says that “to exist is to change” and from this we can see that rules (or ‘regularities’) do not really exist…
We can now see what the big ‘flaw’ is in looking out at the world from the fixed standpoint of the rational mind. The ‘flaw’ is that what we see (and what we take as reality) is a logical system, a system that is made up entirely of regular or rule-based relationships. What we see never changes therefore – not in any genuine way. Just as the rational mind – since it is predicated upon rules – can never give rise to change, neither can it register change. It can only ever register ‘itself reflected back at itself’ – it can only ever register a reflection of itself that it doesn’t see to be a reflection of itself. The rational mind, or the rational self, is lost in mirror-land therefore; it is lost in a hall of mirrors – a hall of mirrors that distort and deceive…
So when I observe the world from the basis of the everyday mind the ‘truths’ that I see as a result are only conditioned truths. What I take to be ‘real’ is only a conditioned reality. And – to cap it all – the self that looks out at the world through the rule-based instrument of the everyday rational mind is only the conditioned self. Just as rules are only abstractions – and as such do not actually exist – so too the conditioned self is only a static abstraction. It is an abstraction staring out at an abstraction. It is an abstraction caught up in an abstract world which is a reflection of itself.
And so the ‘big flaw’ in the rational viewpoint of things – the ‘fly in the ointment’ so to speak – in all this is that the self which is ‘who I take myself to be’ doesn’t actually exist, any more than its rule-based ideas and perceptions do, any more than anything else in this precarious palace of abstractions does. Our relationship to the physical world (as our mind understands that world) is like that of a man to a map, but as EF Schumacher says in A Guide to the Perplexed, maps are an inverted description of reality in that they only show us what we already know.
Maps only show us what never changes, and so what they show us is of no interest. What is really interesting, really worth tuning into, Schumacher says, is what we don’t already know, what we have never come across before. But instead we fixate dully on known things, we immerse ourselves in a world of dull old things to the exclusion of any other reality, and as a result of this dreadful fixation, this robotically exclusive immersion, we become dull old things ourselves…
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.