The unoriginal mind is like a little cockle-shell vessel that is being blown helplessly this way and that on the ocean by every current that comes along, whereas the Original Mind is the ocean itself. From the point of view of the psychologist it might be possible to say a fair bit about the cockleshell mind, the little mind that gets blown this way or that, but on the other hand because the behaviours of this little mind are so very trivial we can’t help wondering if it is worth the effort. We might be able to write reams about it, produce whole libraries of dusty psychological tomes, but why would we bother? The activity of the cockleshell mind is after all nothing more than the ‘resultant’ of two mechanical factors – its own inherent tendencies to react, along with the environmental forces that randomly trigger these reactions. It’s all just the one deterministic process. The everyday cockleshell mind may not seem to itself to be a fixed set of reactions – but it is. When we talk about this little mind we are really only talking about all the various local currents that are currently influencing it; we are only talking about the local conditions and its predetermined way of reacting to these conditions. There really is nothing more to it.
All we need to know about the ‘unoriginal mind’ is that it is deterministically driven – once we understand this then what more is there to know? Being ‘deterministically driven’ means that there is a fixed pattern that behind its behaviour, a fixed pattern that manifests itself through its behaviour, and so it responds to whatever influences come upon it in accordance with its pattern of responding. What we are calling the ‘unoriginal mind’ (or ‘little mind’) is therefore nothing more than this very pattern, which gets to be perpetuated and replicated just so long as that mind continues to be in existence.
Saying that the little mind is a fixed pattern that gets repeated under all circumstances is to say that it is a virus, no more and no less, and so – arguably – we might say that the study of this mind more properly falls under the domain of virology than psychology. The little mind is obviously a virus – it manifestly functions as a virus as we can see from the fact that it not only jealously preserves and propagates the pattern that is itself, but will if it gets any opportunity at all, influence others to adopt and propagate this same pattern rather than any other that they might have been adhering to. Human history consists of very little else other than this ‘battle of the mind viruses’, enacted unconsciously through us on the stage of our humdrum everyday lives. We might fancy that something else is going on, but really it’s just these mind viruses slogging it out between themselves and trying – as viruses always do – to achieve pointless immortality for themselves.
The essential ‘pattern’ that we are talking about here basically comes down a system of describing the world, and then acting or behaving in accordance with that description. The description (or ‘model’) of reality and the possibilities of action that arise from it are clearly one and the same thing – it’s all the same virus, all the same ‘mind-program’. The little mind is both the view and all the possible purposeful actions that come about as a result of that view. It does not however understand itself as being simply a view of the world but as being the view of the world – if it did understand itself as simply being ‘a’ view then it wouldn’t be the little mind anymore – it wouldn’t be the little mind because it would be encompassing more than just ‘itself’, which would by definition be something else entirely.
If the little mind could incorporate points of view other than its own then it would no longer be playing the tight little game of being a virus. This would straightaway make it into the ‘undefined mind’, which instead of ‘only allowing itself’ allows anything, is open to anything. This property of openness means that the undefined mind is actually the ‘Big Mind’. The Big Mind is a totally different kettle of fish from the little mind – it is not a virus because it does not seek to promote itself over all other possible views. How could it compete with other views if it is non-partisan in nature, if it includes all possible views? Competitiveness is necessarily a characteristic of the small, the petty, the limited – the broad view does not compete with other broad views because there is only the one broad view!
This is equivalent to the mathematically undeniable statement that ‘there is only one Universal Set’ – if there are no boundaries then there is no plurality. It is also equivalent to James Carse’s statement that ‘there is but one ‘Infinite Game’. Whilst a finite game is played to promote one specific position to the point where it is completely impregnable, completely secure, completely invulnerable to any further competition, the infinite game has no particular end in sight, no particular axe to grind or standpoint to promote. Whilst the finite player plays with the aim of making sure he is never surprised again, the player of the infinite game – says James Carse – plays in order to be surprised.
According to Carse finite play is serious. When we have bought into the system of description which is the viral mind we relate to its description of the world not as a description but as the actual world as it is in itself. So when we struggle to promote this description (or agendas arising out of it) we do so with great seriousness – we do so without any trace of humour and we are generally willing to do whatever it takes to fulfil these fixed agendas. This seriousness comes about as a result of a hugely spectacular type of blindness – the utter inability to see anything that is not the viral mind’s own patented version of reality.
The inability to look at life any other means that that the small mind’s arbitrary goals become overloaded with importance, it means that they automatically become absurdly overvalued. It takes its own assumptions as being so obviously true that it never bothers to dwell upon them, or try to articulate them – it just rushes blithely ahead, in the most ridiculous fashion, to enact them. It takes its assumptions as being self-evidently true just as it assumes its actions to be self-evidently ‘right’. The viral or small mind has therefore the advantage of being extraordinarily certain of itself, and this huge sense of certainty is entirely due to its blindness regarding anything that is not part of its own picture of things. As Robert Hughes says, “Confidence is the prize given to the mediocre”.
The little mind has therefore no difficulty in finding its own activities meaningful. The ability of the little mind to find its own activities meaningful (instead of profoundly arbitrary) is of course vital if it is to carry on with them. Without the sense that its goals – which are a projection of itself – are genuinely significant the little mind would give up the ghost, it would fizzle out like a damp squib. It would be all over very quickly. Evidence shows however that this ‘lack of belief in themselves’ does not on the whole tend to affect viruses – on the contrary, viruses are of course notorious for the way in which they ‘charge on regardless’, perpetuating and propagating themselves as they go. A biological virus doesn’t care about the specific RNA or DNA pattern it is replicating (that is besides the point entirely) and neither does the virus of the ‘little mind’ care about the particularities of the worldview it is promoting – the point in viral replications is in all instances simply to replicate. If you don’t get this then you don’t get viruses.
The mind virus never doubts the importance of the particular viewpoint it is replicating for the simple reason that it doesn’t have anything to compare it with. That’s all it knows. The reason it doesn’t have anything to compare itself with is of course as we have said because it is blind to everything else (or, to put it another way, because it is a closed system). In order for this mind to change it would have to be an open system and by definition, it isn’t, and so all it can do is carry on being itself. All it can do is ‘carry on regardless’ along its allotted tracks, obeying to perfection its prime directive of staying faithful to the pattern that is itself, copying and pasting itself, copying and pasting itself, copying and pasting itself until hell freezes over, or until time itself gets used up, whatever happens last.
So as long as the viral mind can continue reproducing the static pattern that is itself, it is happy. Needless to say I (when I am identified with this mind) don’t see what I am doing as meaninglessly reiterating the same old thing over and over again. I see myself as striving nobly onwards, progressing, developing my situation, building upon past achievements, consolidating the gains that I have made, and all that sort of stuff. I see myself triumphantly advancing the cause step by painful step towards the final glorious goal – whatever that might be. Either that I or see the converse of all this, which is me failing to progress, slipping backwards, losing all the gains I have made, and missing out big-time on any chances that I might have had to reach the glorious goal. I see myself losing ground instead of gaining it.
But losing is no different to gaining – it’s exactly the same story only looked at the other way, the pessimistic way rather than the optimistic way. It is exactly the same idea in both cases, only in one case I am climbing up the ladder and in the other I am slipping down it. Both impressions are equally illusory since either way I’m still stuck on the same old ladder: I might be looking ‘up the way’ or ‘down the way’ but it doesn’t make the slightest bit of difference either way since the ladder itself doesn’t actually ever go anywhere…
As long as I am buying into the version of reality propagated by the little mind all I am ever doing is optimizing my game (or unsuccessfully trying to optimize my game, which is the same thing). In the first case I am trying to get better at playing the game and I am succeeding, in the second case I am trying to get better at playing the game and I am failing – either way it’s all about the game, either way its all about the wretchedly limited version of reality that is all I know. When I get better and better at playing the game all that is happening is that I am getting better and better at doing the same old tiresome thing! Whatever helps me to improve my game is ‘good’ and whatever stands in my way or sets me back in the game is ‘bad’ and that’s all I need to know. This is ‘living in the box’.
What is basically going on here therefore is that I have this unexamined idea about how things should be and so all I have to do is to ‘keep on working away’ to get reality to be a match for this idea. Or another way to put it is to say that I have a framework of reference that I operate from and so I just keep on operating from it, come what may. I work away from within this unexamined context of understanding trying my best to iron out all the problems that keep coming up to prevent me from realizing my goals, putting my plans into action, fulfilling my agendas, and so on. When I solve these problems and move forward with what I want to do next then I feel great and when I can’t solve them and can’t move forward I feel terrible and so ‘the game’ is simply to get better and better at getting around all the obstacles.
It doesn’t matter in the least what the overall plan is, what the goals are, what the aims and intentions behind it this purposeful activity are because my plans, any goal that I might conceivably make, any idea I might have about where I am going and why, are only ever going to be a logical extrapolation of the framework of understanding that I am taking for granted in the execution of all this purposeful activity. All I am ever doing is ‘acting out’ my view-point, all I am ever doing is ‘acting-out’ my framework, and that framework is the viral mind that I have identified with. The framework is the ‘small mind’ and the ‘small mind’ is the framework and so all I’m ever doing is furthering that small mind ad infinitum, without ever looking at what it is that I’m furthering. I am ‘staying in the box’ and that is that…
This is actually a very funny business altogether. Essentially, something is being passed on, like a baton in a relay race, and everyone is far too busy passing it on to look at it. No one ever checks to see what it is. In fact that’s the number one rule of the game – that you don’t check to see what all the purposeful activity is about. If we did stop to notice what is being passed on (which is what Socrates meant in his famous quote about examining one’s life) we would quickly see that there is nothing there that is especially worth being passed on at such great trouble. There is obviously nothing there worth passing on because if there was we ourselves would surely have some sort of interest in what it is. We wouldn’t be so mad keen to keep on passing it on, keep on passing it on. We wouldn’t be so caught up in the automatic unreflective assertion of it, banging away like a bunch of empty barrels. When we ourselves don’t care what the hell it is that we are so busy perpetuating, promoting and replicating, then this plainly doesn’t say a lot for whatever the content (if there is any) is. It’s an awful lot of fuss, to be sure – but what’s it all in aid of? What kind of circus is this?
The exact same thing applies to beliefs and opinions – it does not pay to be too curious about why we believe so much in our beliefs, or why it is that we have the opinions that we do have, for the simple reason that we would soon discover there is no good reason for it at all. I am hollow, and I am also frightened of seeing that I am hollow. I am in denial of the fact. I could equally well have believed, or opined, anything else and I would be every bit as happy (or every bit as unhappy, as the case may be). The same is true for thoughts – it is evidently true that it doesn’t matter what nonsense we think just so long as we have something or other to be thinking. All anyone needs to do in order to verify this is to spend a day objectively watching their thoughts – to a very large extent we ‘think for the sake of thinking’, we think just so that the wheel of thought can go on turning. This is like saying that if I am compulsive talker then I don’t care what I talk about just so long as I talk about something – otherwise, I might have to confront silence and whatever uncomfortable truths that emerge in that silence.
The important thing is the outwards appearance, the show – the true value of the content is something that no one really gives a damn about, although none of us are particularly prone to admitting this truth. If there is an expert on TV, pontificating about X, Y or Z, then what we want is that he or she should look the part, have the right sort of air about them, wear smart clothes, sound confident, say the sort of things that sound right, have the correct qualifications, and so on. That’s good enough – deep down, we don’t really want anything else out of them. We don’t want to have the very basis of our understanding regarding ‘life, the universe, and everything’ challenged, pulled away unceremoniously from under our feet. We don’t want to be made aware of anything that might contradict our essential worldview.
In general, with regard to our ‘purposeful behavioural output’ (and this includes our rational thinking) we most definitely do not want to have to take a look at the assumptions we have had to make, and then forget about, in order to have that purposeful behavioural output in the first place. We don’t want to be made to examine the basic assumptions that lie behind whatever definite view of the universe we have because it is having that definite view that allows us to carry on happily (or unhappily) with our habitual, comfortable way of being in the world. We aren’t stupid after all – we know what side our bread is buttered on and we aren’t about to screw things up for ourselves.
What we are averse to is anything to do with the devil called relativity. Relativity means that there aren’t any absolute standards with which to compare and validate our experiences, and that there aren’t – on this account – any reliable guidelines for us to follow in life. It also means that any view or model or theory we have about the universe is only true because we arbitrarily agree to take it as being true – and being aware of this makes it impossible to carry on with life in the comfortable way that we always have done. It makes is impossible for us to carry on with the pattern that we have been faithfully perpetuating and still have the security of thinking that there is something ‘specially meaningful’, something ‘uniquely right’ about it. Relativity allows us to see therefore that any other pattern we might have picked to perpetuate and replicate would have been equally valid – which means that it isn’t really ‘valid’ at all.
We can think about this in terms of messages. We can say that the game I am playing is the game of saying that the message I am committed to passing on is special, that my message is ‘the one true message’ – and that all other ‘so-called messages’ are only so much meaningless noise. As long as I make sure never to actually check out this basic premise then I can go on playing the game; if I do check it out and I discover that there is nothing special about the message I am faithfully replicating then I can’t. If I allow myself to discover this that makes me look ridiculous, considering all the effort I’ve put into it over the years, all the trouble I’ve had over it, all the pain and strife and upsets and drama I’ve been through as a result of stubbornly holding onto it come what may. Needless to say, I don’t ever want to see this!
It isn’t the particular message I’m transmitting that is ridiculous, any more than any other message that I might pick would be. They are all the same, they are all equally good – just like all the grains of sand on a beach are ‘equally good’, just like all the stars in the sky are ‘equally good’. But the fact that all the possible messages are equally good (or equally meaningful) means that none of them are specially meaningful, which does away with the basis for the game.
The ‘special meaning’ that I am assuming my message to hold exists only in my head, it is specially meaningful only because I choose for it to be so (which is the same as saying that winning at some particular game I am playing – tiddlywinks or chequers or snap or happy families or whatever the hell it is – is important only ‘because I agree for it to be’). It’s the convention that the message is uniquely important, it’s the convention to assume the package being transported has something in it, even though it doesn’t, because this assumption facilitates the game. The question is, how far do we want to take the game? How far can we take the game?
Games like Tiddlywinks, snap, happy families, Monopoly, old maid and so on tend to be pretty neutral – we don’t usually tend to cut up rough over who wins or who doesn’t or who cheats and who doesn’t. Bad feelings and hostility don’t generally come into it, fights rarely break out, extreme overwhelming feelings of fear or greed don’t arise during the course of play, and the reason for this is that there is no major investment. We don’t have that much riding on it – just enough to make the game enjoyable. Other games, like football for example, can often be seen to have a lot more riding on them; when we support a team there is generally a fair bit more investment going on than – any self-respecting footy fan will go through the mill watching the fortunes of his team wax and wane during the course of a match. Looking at a supporter’s face after his team has won or lost a major match will show that football is not merely ‘a game’, like snap or happy families or monopoly is a game. It’s serious!
But notwithstanding the high level of investment that tends to take place football is at root a game like any other game and the key point about any game – the thing that makes a game a game in the first place – is that it is based upon an arbitrary choice which we then proceed to see as being ‘not arbitrary’. Going back to our idea of messages, we said that the game we play is all about pretending or assuming that our message is somehow more special than any other message. So once we have made the arbitrary choice to assume that the message we are picking is special then the game can start (and – contrariwise – if we don’t make this choice then the game can’t start). In the spectator sport of football the first arbitrary choice that we make is to follow it in the first place (since the whole business of football will all seem profoundly meaningless if we don’t make this choice) and the second arbitrary choice is to support some team or other, since in order to get the value out of the game it is of course necessary to be prejudiced with regard to what team we want to win.
Naturally enough the idea that I ‘picked my team at random’ is not one that I am going to be particularly keen to dwell upon. I can cite – in an attempt to offset this heinous allegation – many reasons why I support the team that I do but the crux of the matter is that I freely choose to do so. It wasn’t preordained that way, nobody forced me to support team X rather than team Y, there wasn’t any rule saying I had to. And as James Carse says, “he who must play, can’t play” – without the principle of freedom, the voluntary choice to play a game, there can be no game. The whole point of a game is that ‘it ain’t necessarily so’, and that ‘it is so only because we agree for it to be so’, and so if there is no voluntary agreement there is no game.
Very obviously then, the degree of seriousness which the game holds for me – which is to say, the degree of immersion involved – is directly proportional to the degree to which I deny that my original choice was a completely free one. Absolute denial would therefore – going on this principle – mean absolute immersiveness with regard to the game that is being played.
The consequences of gaining insight into this universally ignored principle would thus be – from the point of view of the game we are playing – utterly devastating. If we even get just the merest glimpse of it then that glimpse would turn everything we believe in on its head. It would make a complete mockery of everything we take seriously. Going back to our example of football, the fact that I arbitrarily choose to support one team rather than the other shows that the whole point about a game is that I  freely identify with a position (any position) and then  act as if this choice never happened, and this act of self-deception means that everything I do from this point on is going to be fundamentally insincere. It’s all based on me saying that I didn’t do something which I did do.
If I want to play then I have to divide myself against myself, I have to trick myself, I have to deceive myself – that is the only way I can benefit from the false freedom of ‘being who I am not’, of ‘being who the game defines me as being’. It’s not so much that the game defines me as being this or that, but rather that it defines me at all. To exist as a defined entity (rather than who I really am) is a complete turnaround, a truly peculiar state of affairs. If I am defined (in terms of what is me and what is not me) then this necessarily means that I am entirely constrained in every possible respect; there is no freedom for a defined entity because no matter what that defined entity does, no matter how it may twist and turn, it can never escape the constraints of its own definition. Definition is a trap: no matter what I do it is still ‘me’ (i.e. the defined identity) that does it. No matter where I go, it is still ‘me’ that goes there…
The only type of freedom that is possible for the defined (or conditioned) self is therefore the freedom to choose from a range of alternative predetermined outcomes, some of which might be defined as being favourable, and others unfavourable. The defined self cannot escape the all-encompassing constraint of how it is defined so it might as well forget about all that, and concentrate instead on other – more trivial – types of escape, other modalities of evasion that might conceivably be available to it. The intense attraction that the defined self feels in relation to these trivial types of ‘escaping’ can be seen as being the result of the displacement of the original pain of being constrained into a ‘theatrical arena’, where it can be solved in a false (or theatrical) fashion. This fundamental psychological mechanism – the mechanism of ‘pseudo-solution’ – can therefore be said to lie behind everything that happens in the game of conditioned identity, which is the game of the little mind.
There is in reality no freedom on offer, no freedom on the table, but if I ignore this grim picture and concentrate instead on the various pseudo-solutions that are available to me within the arena of the game I can ignore that fact. In its essential form, the false freedom of the game comes down of course to the two basic possibilities of WIN versus LOSE. Bereft of any chance of real freedom, the defined self can displace the pain of its situation into the perennial hope of ‘WINNING’, which – whilst in no way being equivalent to the state of freedom – nevertheless substitutes for it in a trivial sort of a way. WINNING becomes ‘escaping’, whilst LOSING becomes ‘not escaping’ and so the battle is fought out in these terms, on this basis.
WINNING is as we have said in no way the same thing as freedom because it is the conditioned self that wins (just as it is the conditioned self that LOSES) but by outwardly displacing the pain of its true situation onto the two theatrical possibilities of WINNING versus LOSING a dynamic is created which superficially appears to offer us the chance of movement from ‘what we don’t like’ to ‘what we do like’, albeit in the thoroughly unreal domain which is the domain of the game. Unconditioned freedom is thus translated – however illegitimately – into the black-and-white terms of [+] and [-].
The fundamental self-deception in which I misrepresent freedom (which is what I genuinely yearn for) in narrow terms of YES and NO, WIN and LOSE, lies at the root of everything the purposeful self does, it underpins everything the rational self thinks and believes in. This is what the psychology of the ‘little self’ is all about. The little self has no freedom, so it makes up for this lack of freedom by always looking outwards, by living entirely in its own projections, which is to say, its goals, its plans, its ideas. The viral self has no freedom – the nature of a virus being by definition unfree – and so it compensates for this by ‘viralizing’, by replicating itself and replicating itself and replicating itself ad nauseam.
This – in the simplest possible terms – is what the life of the small self is all about. Its idea of ‘freedom’ is simply doing the same thing over and over again forever, living a life thereby of profound unoriginality, and – consequentially – profound meaninglessness. The life of the small self is an exercise in utter futility which it nevertheless contrives to not see as a futile (although it might from time to time suspect that this is the case).
This brings us to the ultimately serious game, the most immersive game of all – the game of the little mind. In this game every last little bit of consciousness is soaked up, absorbed, taken up, and investment is therefore at an absolute maximum. This is the game whereby I imagine myself to be this little self, this ‘me’, this particular nondescript player in the game of conditioned existence. I believe (as much as I ever could believe anything) that ‘being me’ is not a freely chosen act on my part, that it is not arbitrary, that I am special in being ‘me’ and not like anyone else in this respect, but the truth is that I would believe this no matter who I was… This is the nature of the game of the little mind, the game which I am wholly absorbed in.
One question we might ask ourselves is why would this bizarre state of affairs come about in the first place? Why would I instigate such a situation, a situation in which I am my own deceiver, a situation in which I give away my own freedom? One answer is to say that reason for this is fear – the fear of too many possibilities, the fear of openness, the existential terror that is attendant upon too much spaciousness. Spaciousness means the absence of limits and the rational-purposeful self defines itself through limits. If I say what I am, then at the same time I am saying what I am not, and so here is a limit. Without limits (or boundaries) nothing can be said. No boundaries equals ‘no defined self’; no boundaries equals ‘no virus’ and if there’s one thing the virus of the mind is totally and absolutely against it’s the idea of ‘no virus’.
The viral mind is a very ‘black-and-white’ sort of a thing; it is a creature of pure unadulterated logic, a creature which abides exclusively in ‘absolutely defined categories’. As we have said, it only knows the two possibilities – propagating the message that is itself and not propagating it. The first possibility is ‘absolutely good’ and the second ‘absolutely bad’. This is the basic game rule, the basic motivation behind everything it does.
We can therefore say that the viral mind’s basic fear is of not propagating the message that is itself and this fear explains everything that the viral self does. The viral mind, the viral self has no interest beyond itself. But this does not explain why the whole business would start in the first place, what the motivation behind playing the game would be. After all, the Big Mind isn’t afraid of freedom – the Big Mind is freedom.
But why would the Big Mind mislead itself into thinking that it is the little mind? Why would the Original Mind shoddily misrepresent itself as the unoriginal mind, a mere ‘repeating pattern’, a senseless ‘mechanical reflex’, an automatically propagating ‘virus’?
Rather than go around in circles wondering about this question, it would – as the Buddha is said to have advised his students – be much more instructive to pay attention to the astonishing (and undeniable) fact that it does…
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.