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The Thinking Game

We’re all of trapped pretty much full-time in what we might call ‘the thinking game’. The thinking game is where we spend almost the whole of our waking lives busily thinking about this, that and the other in the hope that we will get something worth while out of it. When we don’t, we don’t give up the constant thinking, the constant scheming and calculation, the planning and the analysing, but rather we redouble our efforts, we doggedly stick at it in the hope that our efforts will one day pay off…




But it is not just the case that we spend far too much time in our heads, thinking about life when we could be living it, it is also the case – as David Bohm says – that our thinking extends itself out of our heads and becomes concretized in the designed environment that we live in. Everything becomes all just the one system, which Bohm calls The System of Thought . The thing about this system however is that it embodies limitations or restrictions that we cannot see, that we have no way of being aware of, just so long as we look at things from the point of view of the system, as we almost always do.




Because of the way in which we over-value the thinking process we trap and limit ourselves, therefore. Because of our unreflective worshipping of thought we cause ourselves to live in a very narrow, petty, impoverished little world.




One way of looking at this ‘narrowing’ or ‘impoverishment’ that we have involuntarily imposed upon ourselves is to say that our whole way of seeing things, our whole psychology, is based upon scarcity rather than abundance. This ‘deficit-driven’ way of understanding things is a direct result of how the rational mind works. We can look at this in terms of games: in any game the possibility of winning has got to be in short supply – it has got to be ‘a limited commodity’, so to speak. If everyone could win at will then the whole basis of the game would be undermined at one stroke – after all, if everyone is a winner then no one is a winner! Another way of getting at this idea is to make the point that winning is defined in terms of losing – the possibility of ‘coming out on top’ is only meaningful if there is also the possibility of ‘ending up at the bottom’. This, needless to say, is an idea that we are more than familiar with since it is built into out whole way of life.




Now in one way this is fair enough since this is how games work, but there is another aspect to the mutual dependence of winning and losing that we very rarely have any insight into, which is the inarguable fact that winning and losing are inextricably linked. You can never outrun losing no matter how much you win just as you can never get away from DOWN no matter how far UP you go. You can’t climb away from DOWN because UP and DOWN are conjoined – you can’t separate a pair of mutually-defining opposites because without the one you can’t have the other!




This is a very important point to understand because it means that there is a kind of inevitable ‘impoverishment’ built into the system that is going to ‘keep us hungry’. What the principle of the inseparability of the opposites means is that there is no actual space in the system, no genuine ‘distance’ between the opposites. This is the crucial point to understand – that in order to obtain the absolutely defined state of winning we also have to have the absolutely defined state of losing and that when we have a system that is made up of two mutually-defining opposites there is never going to be any actual space in that system…




The reason there is no space in the system (i.e. the game) is because there is never at any time going to be any possibility of getting anywhere that isn’t defined in terms of winning versus losing, which is a pair of opposites that has no space between them. No matter how hard we try, we will never be able to put any genuine distance between ‘where we are’ and ‘where we want to be getting away from’. It’s all just virtual distance – it’s the appearance of distance without the content. It is like running hell for leather on a treadmill where there is the thin illusion of getting somewhere, the thin illusion of progress with nothing behind it…




It is always going to be the case that the only sort of distance in a game is virtual distance. How could it not be virtual when no matter how fast I run in the direction of UP I can never get away from DOWN? I’m running but I’m getting nowhere. What I want is to get away from the repelling opposite – I want to put space between me and the undesirable opposite (which is where I don’t want to be) but no matter how much effort I put into it I can never succeed. The two opposites of WIN and LOSE, UP and DOWN, can never be separated.




What I want is to have the one without the other and this desire is what creates the ‘virtual distance’. This desire to have winning without losing is what creates the game! Genuine space would involve a movement which results in the situation where neither WIN nor LOSE, UP nor DOWN, makes any sense to me any more. Space would mean that the two opposites cease to be meaningful, cease to be relevant to me, but this is not at all what I want!




As we have said, I don’t want to lose both UP and DOWN, I want to have the UP without having the DOWN and it is the absolute impossibility of having this desire ever satisfied or realized that traps me so effectively in the game….




Real space would be where uncertainty comes into the picture. ‘Uncertainty’ is stuff that doesn’t make sense within the strict framework of the game, stuff that has no relevance to the game, and so ‘letting uncertainty into the picture’ really means moving out of the framework. If I move beyond the view of reality which is constrained by the concepts of win and lose (i.e. if I move beyond winning and losing!) then this is genuine space, rather than the fraudulent or deceptive virtual variety.




Talking in terms of games is very useful because it gives us a simple way of illustrating the principle that says ‘in order to absolutely define one opposite (such as winning) we also need to absolutely define the other, complementary opposite’. But this isn’t just true for the two complementary opposites of winning and losing – it is true for all opposites, without any exception whatsoever…




This means that the principle also holds good for the rational mind, for what David Bohm calls the System of Thought, since this system is quintessentially a logical continuum and all logical continua – by their very nature – have to exist within the bounds of two complementary opposites. It is very easy to see that the continuum of logic is always a polar construct if we consider that is based upon linear axes – each one of which has [+] infinity at one end and [-] infinity at the other (or, we could just say, POSITIVE and NEGATIVE). So if we want to define stuff – if we want to think about or categorize stuff – then we have to allocate each and every element that we are considering its proper location in terms of all these axes. In other words, we have to see everything exclusively within the closed framework that is provided by this system of axes…




When we do this, therefore, what we have done is to restrict ourselves unequivocally to a logical continuum based entirely on polarity (or as the Buddhists say, duality) and this is a purely abstract realm within which there is no space.




There is therefore a classic trade-off going on here, a trade-off between ‘qualitative essence’ on the one hand and ‘quantitative definition’ on the other. We want to live in a world that is made up of defined things and so in order to obtain this possibility for ourselves we have to trade off the qualitative and indefinable aspect of reality for the aspect which can be formally described and ‘known’. This leads to the situation where, to paraphrase Wei Wu Wei, we live in a world made up entirely of outsides – outsides with no insides.




We gain the defined appearance, but we lose the reality behind the appearance, and at the same time we also lose the ability to know that there is a reality behind the appearances. As a result of playing the thinking game we live in a world made up of appearances – we think that appearances are reality and as a result we end up trapped in a world of illusion…








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.

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