When we receive messages from the outside world we don’t just receive the messages themselves – which is what we pay attention to – we receive the context, the format that the message is coming with. So we’re taking on these contexts, we’re taking on these formats the whole time without paying any heed to the fact that we are doing so. Every time we receive a message we receive also receive a context – the former on a conscious level, and the latter on an unconscious level, so to speak.
There are – needless to say – consequences to continuously ‘buying into’ preformatted contexts without paying attention to the fact that we are doing so. We’re actually being tricked here – we think we’re getting one thing, but we’re actually getting another thing, an invisible thing that we hadn’t at all bargained on! This is exactly the same trick that was used (according to legend) against the Trojans by the Greeks, and as we all know it didn’t end up very well for the Trojans on that occasion! What’s happening to us when we ‘unwittingly buy into a context’ is that we are being tricked into seeing the world in a particular limited way. This ‘blindness’ might benefit others (if for the sake of the argument we say that there are others who wish to exploit us) but it certainly can’t benefit us…
The overt message is of course visible to us but the format (or ‘structure’) that comes with it is invisible. Why this should be so is straightforward enough – the message is the high-lighted content, whilst the assumptions that this visible content takes for granted, the rules of logic that it is based apon, is not something to which we are invited to bring our attention. We need to make exactly the same assumptions (i.e. we need to utilize these very same rules) if we are to make sense of the message, but we don’t need to know that we are doing this. Actually, it’s not just that we don’t need to see that we are borrowing a whole bunch of assumptions; it’s not just that we don’t have to see that we are utilizing a particular set of rules, but rather that we can’t. If we do see what we’re doing then the message no longer makes sense!
Stuart Kauffman says somewhere that ‘knowing requires not-knowing’ and this is exactly the point we are making. The legitimacy of the rules must be taken for granted if the message is to mean anything – as soon as we see that the message only means something when we take certain rules for granted this of course means that the messages ceases to mean what it purports to mean. What Stuart Kauffman was saying within the original context of that quote is that when we use categories of thought we are, by doing this, throwing away information. This is how a category works as a category, after all – any information that matches the criteria for inclusion within the category is registered, is kept, whilst all the rest (all the information that doesn’t match) is automatically dumped or discarded as being ‘error’, as being ‘rubbish’. We discard this non-congruent information without looking back at it, without looking at it in the first place, without ever appreciating what we are throwing away, and so we can never know what we have discarded. We need to ‘not-know’ if the process of categorical thinking is to work, and this is what Kauffman means when he says that ‘knowing requires not-knowing’. If we want to ‘know’ the conceptualized version of the world that the mind produces for us to know (or to ‘believe in’) then we have to ‘not-know’ anything about the information that we have thrown away.
As Robert Anton Wilson says in Prometheus Rising,
Imprints (software frozen into hardware) are the non-negotiable aspects of our individuality. Out of the infinity of possible programs existing as possible software, the imprint establishes the limits, parameters, perimeters within which all subsequent conditioning and learning occurs.
Before the first imprint, the consciousness of the infant is “formless and void” – like the universe at the beginning of Genesis, or the descriptions of unconditioned (“enlightened” i.e., exploded) consciousness in the mystic traditions. As soon as the first imprint is made, structure emerges out of the creative void. The growing mind, alas, becomes trapped within this structure. It identifies with the structure; in a sense, it becomes the structure.
This entire process is analysed in G. Spencer Brown’s Laws of Form, and Brown was writing about the foundations of mathematics and logic. But every sensitive reader knows that Brown is also talking about a process we have all passed through in creating, out of an infinite ocean of signals, those particular constructs we call ‘myself’ and ‘my world’.
This whole process is as RAW indicates irreversible – we can run it the one way alright but we can’t turn back the clock, we can’t turn a dial and run it back the other way again! Once we’ve dumped the non-matching information we can’t then change our minds and retrieve it again – that information is now inaccessible to us, as we’ve said, we have no way of knowing anything about it. This is of course the consequence of taking a particular viewpoint for granted – it’s very easy to do this (it is very easy to buy into a set of assumptions, a set of rules) but once we have done so we have limited what we are able to know. Because we have bought into a limitation on ‘what we can know’ we are no longer able to ‘know that we don’t know’! We have become ‘ignorant of our own ignorance’, in other words. We have lost a huge amount of information, and at the same time we don’t know that we have lost anything.
Receiving messages from the outside world is therefore the same thing as receiving an invitation to play some game or other. “Come and play! Come and play! Come and play!” each message says to us. We are engulfed in a sea of such messages – they are all around us, they are everywhere, they are ubiquitous. The world as we generally know it (i.e. the man-made world) is entirely made up of such messages of one type or another. There’s nothing in it that isn’t a message. The crucial thing about these messages is that we’re free not to play them, but once we do play then we straightaway lose this freedom. By agreeing to play we agree to give away our freedom, and as we have said, at the same time that we lose this freedom we lose our ability to know that we have lost it.
Games (and also what we might call ‘literal messages’) are invitations to lose our freedom. This is what games are all about – if we didn’t give up our freedom then we couldn’t play the game, which is the point that James Carse makes in Infinite and Finite Games:
Some self-veiling is present in all games. Players must intentionally forget the inherently voluntary nature of their play, else all competitive effort will desert them.
Another way of putting this is say that we cannot see the propositions of a game to be ‘only true because we have agreed for them to be true’, or else the game will no longer make seem meaningful to us. Clearly, if we can see that the basic propositions ‘are only true because we have agreed to take it for granted that they are true’, then this means that we know that they aren’t true at all!
Messages, just like games, automatically assume a certain context in order to be true. If the message did not do this then it would instantly dissolve into relativity, and relativity is the enemy of what we might call ‘positive meaning’. ‘Positive meaning’ is simply meaning that stands out on its own, so that disputing frameworks of interpretation aren’t allowed, so that no ambiguity at all is allowed. One view is emphasized and all the others are suppressed. Positive meaning only gets to be ‘positive’ in this sense therefore by tricking us into believing that there is only one way to look at things – the way which it itself assumes. Anything certain only gets to be that way by when we treat a particular fixed framework (or viewpoint) as the ultimate standard. The only way to live in a world in which we can make statements that are ‘definitely true’ is by making ourselves blind to all other possible viewpoints because a plurality of perspectives is guaranteed to relativize all possible certain statements.
Because the type of messages we are talking about are the type that are made up of literal (or ‘positive’) meaning any value that they might have is instantly lost the moment they become relativized. The only possible value of any ‘rational message’ is its literal truth – this is after all the only level of meaning that the message itself acknowledges. Because rational messages only make sense in relation to a single point of view, when that point of view ceases to be ‘the ultimate standard of what is right and wrong, true or not true’, there is no value, no meaning left in it whatsoever. This is also true for games, as we can easily see – the rules of the game have to be spelt out (and understood) in a black-and-white fashion or else the game cannot proceed. There can be no ambiguity here – either the rule means what it says it means or the game falls instantly to pieces. Similarly, we could say that if either ‘winning’ or ‘losing’ did not have a final, irrevocable meaning then the game would instantly collapse. What is a game without any rules? What is a game without winning and losing?
It is possible for there to be types of meaning other than the positive or literal type. There is also symbolic meaning, but the thing about symbolic meaning is that it contains no absolutes. It doesn’t relate us to anything definite – in fact it takes us away from the ‘world of definites’ (which we all agree to believe in) and into a world that has no boundaries, a world that contains no ‘parameters’, no ‘perimeters’. According to Jung, in Man and his Symbols,
Thus, a word or an image is symbolic when it implies something more than its obvious and immediate meaning. It has a wider, “unconscious” aspect that is never precisely defined or fully explained. Nor can one hope to define or explain it. As the mind explores the symbol, it is led to ideas that lie beyond the grasp of reason. The wheel may lead our thoughts toward the concept of a “divine” sun, but at that point reason must admit its incompetence; man is unable to define a “divine” being. When, with all our intellectual limitations, we call something “divine,” we have merely given it a name, which may be based on a creed, but never on factual evidence.
Symbolic messages have far less currency now than in previous times as we turn more and more to rationality and ‘the light of reason’ for all our answers – what possible value could a symbol be to an age which sees reason as putting a limit on all things? Since we are so convinced that the world the logical, category-using mind shows us is the only world, why would we want go beyond that mind? With symbolic meaning no longer of any value to us, we are flooded instead with meaning of the literal variety. Thus, the messages to which we are subjected every day on a continuous basis have nothing to do with opening us up to a bigger reality. We’re not interested in ‘a bigger reality’ – we’re too practical, too hard-headed for that! Literal or rational messages are not – as we have said – invitations to be in the world in a freer, more spacious way; on the contrary, their invitation is to ‘continue with the game’ – they endlessly divert us with yet more and more of the same thing, disguised as ‘something different’. The categorical mind is like a building with very many rooms in it. New rooms are constantly being added, extensions are always being built, with plans in the offing for further extensions to these extensions. The only thing about this however is that all of the rooms are exactly the same, despite what we may be led to believe. They are all generic copies of the first room.
The invitations of all these endlessly proliferating messages is ‘to continue being unfree without knowing that we are unfree’. Only it is not expressed as this. Anything is possible for us, according to rational thought – we are told that wonders lie behind each new door that we open. This is the gimmick that keeps us hooked. Beneath the incredibly superficial ‘two-dimensional surface’ which is the mind-created virtual reality however only one thing matters, and that is that we should never stop playing the game. This is the unspoken rule behind the game – that we should never stop playing it…
We can say that the messages which make up the mind-created world are ‘invitations to play a game’, but we can also say that they are ‘virus-programmes’, waiting to infect us. After all – as we ought to realize – we don’t really play the game, the game plays us. The perception that it is us who are playing the game (us who are in the driver’s seat) is simply an illusion that the game provides us with. Really, the game plays us and because of the upside-down way we are looking at things we experience this peculiarly inverted form of freedom (this parody of freedom) as if it were the real thing.
There is no way that this can’t be the case – after all, as we have been saying, the key thing about a game is that there is no freedom in it! ‘Freedom’ has been replaced by ‘compulsion’ – and it is this substitution which characterizes a game. The compulsion comes directly out of the structure of the game (or the rules of the game) and what this means – no matter how you look at it – is that the game is controlling us! This is simply another way of restating that there is no freedom in the game, that there is nothing that can happen in the game that hasn’t already been put into it…
So when we take on the format of the message, the context of the message, without paying any heed to the fact that we are doing so, then we’re letting ourselves be infected by the hidden logic of the message, in pretty much the same way as if we had opened an infected file on our laptop. The hook for our attention is whatever the message seems superficially to be about – something apparently interesting, something apparently different, some gimmick that makes us ‘look twice’. This is of course what advertising and promotions are all about and this consensus world of ours is all about advertising, all about secret agendas. ‘Promoting the product’ is the name of the game. ‘Ensnaring our attention’ is the name of the game…
So we buy into the message and then the next thing is that the virus programme gets into us and starts hijacking us for its own purposes, as virus programmes do, and the whole time this is happening we know nothing about it. We are oblivious. We couldn’t care less. We look on with the bland lack of concern that is characteristic of the domesticated farm animal.
The suggestion that ‘literal messages trap us in the finite (and therefore unreal) world which they assume’ might as well be a foreign language for all the sense that it makes to us. A world where our minds are constantly at risk from a ‘hostile takeover’ (which Carlos Castaneda significantly refers to as ‘the predatorial universe’) is incomprehensible to us, unimaginable to us. We have no interest in even thinking about such a possibility. We couldn’t care less about the wider view – we’re only interested in ‘playing the game’, not in ‘seeing the game’! We’re not interested in gaining insight into the true nature of trap that we have been caught up in anymore than we are interested in hearing any talk of ‘the predatorial universe’. And yet this is exactly the kind of universe in which we live – whether we care to know about it or not…
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.