The essential process in consciousness expansion is the unpacking of consciousness from all of the rational constructs, mental boxes, conceptual compartments, etc, that it has been packed in. When we’re all packed up – as we almost inevitably are – in the constructs of the mind then we are in a situation where there’s no space and yet we simply can’t see that there isn’t. This is because there’s something else instead of space – there’s virtual space which is like the inside surface-area of all the boxes that we’re contained within. Virtual space is therefore an artifact of our rational constructs; it’s the way we’re fooled into staying neatly packed up without realizing that we’re packed up.
The process of ‘unpacking’ isn’t so much the movement from limited or restricted consciousness to a more expansive consciousness as it is a ‘jump’ from the lack of consciousness to its actual presence. When I am relating exclusively to a world made up of virtual space then there is no genuine awareness involved in this at all. There’s no genuine awareness there because I am not relating to anything real; there’s no awareness involved because I am relating exclusively to something that is not real but which I think is real. We could also say that there is no consciousness in the pseudo-world that is made up of virtual space because there isn’t any ‘I’ present – there is only the virtual self which is automatically generated (by a kind of ‘backwards reflex’) the moment we start taking virtual space seriously!
When I am exclusively relating to virtual space (which is the only type of space to be found within our rational constructs) then I am myself inevitably going to be a reflection of – or logical extension of – this very same virtual space. This is the only way it can possibly work. Or we could also say that the only way I can take a rational construct seriously is if I myself am a rational construct! So when we have the situation of a virtual self taking a virtual world seriously (or the situation of a rational ego surveying and evaluating its own rational objects as if this were actually a meaningful operation) then there is no consciousness involved. There is no consciousness involved because consciousness is something that exists independently of the loop of ‘the thinking mind and its constructs’ or ‘the rational ego plus its objects’. Consciousness exists outside of this closed – and therefore ultimately meaningless – loop.
When we’re all packed up in the rational mind therefore we’re in ‘a loop that doesn’t see itself to be a loop’. We’re in a loop (the loop that is made up of ‘mind plus its projections’) that doesn’t look like a loop from the inside. Because we’re unknowingly caught up in a tautological loop of logic we’re in the very peculiar situation of not having anything real to relate to and at the same time being utterly unable to realize this. When we are on the inside of a closed loop of logic then there officially isn’t an outside; from the point of the virtual world which we’re taking seriously there is no ‘outside’ because the virtual world – naturally enough – doesn’t take itself to be ‘a virtual world’. And yet what is outside of the closed loop of logic is actual reality – which is something that has nothing to do with logic!
What all this means is that the place we start off from is a place of no consciousness at all. Consciousness – very obviously – can’t be permitted because that would blow the whole simulation. Consciousness blows the show every time because it instantly reveals the simulation as being a simulation. The prohibition of actual genuine consciousness is the basic condition of the game – unless this condition is strictly observed there is no game. This is the principle alluded to here by Jean Baudrillard in relation to the media –
The futility of everything that comes to us from the media is the inescapable consequence of the absolute inability of that particular stage to remain silent. Music, commercial breaks, news flashes, adverts, news broadcasts, movies, presenters—there is no alternative but to fill the screen; otherwise there would be an irremediable void…. That’s why the slightest technical hitch, the slightest slip on the part of the presenter becomes so exciting, for it reveals the depth of the emptiness squinting out at us through this little window.
So all the stuff that seems to be going on in the virtual world, in the simulation, isn’t actually going on at all. It’s a virtual production. It’s empty. It’s an illusion dependent upon the suppression of the real. When I’m all parcelled up, when I’m all wrapped up in the productions of the thinking mind, then everything is only meaningful in a ‘self-referential’ way – which is to say, it makes sense only in relation to itself. What we’re talking about here is Baudrillard’s hyperreality, therefore – we’re talking about a realm where the ‘description’ has gone viral, has become toxically virulent, and has as a result completely taken over from the original reality that was being described.
There is as we have said something very peculiar about this self-referentiality, this business of me forever thinking about my own mental productions, this business of me being lost in a world that is made up by ‘me thinking about my own thinking’. There is something deeply bizarre about it. I am lost in a mass of thoughts, each of which only makes sense in relation to all the other thoughts, and what this means is that none of these thoughts actually mean anything. They’re all just chasing each other around and around in circles. On a very small (or petty) scale a thought appears to mean something – it most definitely appears to mean something. It appears to be pointing at something else, referring to something outside itself. But really it isn’t because all it’s pointing at, all it’s referring to, is another thought! So one thought makes sense in terms of another, which in turn makes sense in terms of yet another, and so on and so forth until eventually we get right back where we started off from.
We could also think about this principle of ‘localized meaning which covers up a globalized lack of meaning’ as J.G. Bennett does in terms of the overall neutrality of a body in which there are lots and lots of ‘little polarities’, lots and lots of little ‘plus-minus pairs’. If (just for the sake of the analogy) we say that we take an electron away from one molecule and donate it to another, we can then say this makes the donor molecule asymmetrical with respect to the one which has received the electron. We have created an asymmetrical situation because one molecule is positively charged, and the other is negatively charged – a polarity has therefore been created – a ‘tension between two opposites’. The positively-charged molecule is one pole and the negatively-charged molecule is the other, and between these two polar opposites will stretch a ‘magnetic continuum’ which varies from [+] at one end to [-] at the other. This magnetic continuum may be thought of as a kind of virtual ‘micro-universe’ which exists purely in terms of the two poles that define it…
If we make a bit of a jump now and think of this situation in purely abstract terms as a logical continuum instead of a magnetic one what we have is a quantifiable domain in which define statement statements can be made purely in terms of these two complementary opposites. The logical continuum that is strung between two poles is always going to be a closed system since the whole set up is defined entirely in terms of the two directions – the POSITIVE direction and the NEGATIVE direction. There’s nothing else to the system – just PLUS and MINUS, YES and NO, UP and DOWN, etc. Nothing else ‘makes sense’ to the system! Another – more direct – way of explaining WHY the logical continuum (or the magnetic continuum given in our first example) has to be a ‘closed system’ is to say that it is ‘closed’ (i.e. it is a world all of its own) because POSITIVE is the same thing as NEGATIVE, because the NORTH POLE ‘joins up with’ (or is ‘continuous with’) the SOUTH POLE…
A logical continuum stretched out between PLUS and MINUS is really just a kind of an ‘imaginary one-dimensional ruler’ which can be used to ‘read off’ locations all along its length. This abstract ruler is a ‘closed system’ because all the readings that we can take from it – pretty obviously – are only ever going to be meaningful in accordance to itself. Just to restate this absolutely CRUCIAL point –
The set of definite statements that can be generated by the logical continuum don’t mean anything at all outside of the one-dimensional framework of reference which was used to create them!
Whenever we split YES and NO we automatically create a dimension, and a dimension (which is the same thing as a linear axis) is nothing more than a set of logically-related ‘possibilities’ that exist on the continuum that is stretched out between the two separated poles. I can be at one point on the axis, or I can be at another. I can be moving towards the positive pole, or I can be moving towards the negative pole, and so in addition to the quantitative measure which is location, there is also the possibility of another quantity which is the rate of change of my location, i.e. my ‘velocity’. If we take the situation where there are a number of precisely defined points that are to be considered, some of which may be exhibiting movement in relation to the axis, and some of which may not, then we can straightaway generate a whole body of relationships between all of these points, and so what we’ve done is to create a whole virtual world. A whole virtual environment, a whole self-contained ‘system of meaning’ has been strung between the PLUS and the MINUS, much as a hammock can be strung between two trees. And in much the same way that we can climb up into the hammock and ‘take up residence’ in it, so to speak, we can also ‘take up residence’ in the virtual world that is created by splitting the opposites.
One tree very obviously won’t do for stringing up a hammock – we need both of them because without the tension that is set up between the two opposed trees (one of which is pulling one way, whilst the other pulls the other way, so to speak) then the whole endeavour falls flat. We never even get started; we never even get off the ground. We can say therefore – as Diogenes reports Heraclitus as saying – that everything depends upon the dynamic that exists between two opposites:
All things come into being by conflict of opposites, and the sum of things (τὰ ὅλα ta hola, “the whole”) flows like a stream.
And we’re only talking about one dimension so far – there is of course nothing to stop us picking another axis (one which is independent from the first because it is at right angles to it) and adding a whole new dimension to the game that we are playing. Our hammock becomes more complicated – it is strung between eight trees instead of two, or perhaps even more, and as a result there is more to get involved in, more intricacies and convolutions to get absorbed in. Far from being just a plain old hammock, its a veritable multidimensional cat’s cradle! And yet no matter how many axes we add to the virtual world, it is still only ever a ‘closed system of reference’, which is to say – all those statements which are meaningful within this context remain profoundly meaningless outside of it.
After all, IF – as Heraclitus says – ‘The road up and the road down are the same thing’, and IF the meaningfulness that is ascribed by the linear axis to all statements that may be made in relation to it as a ‘standard’ relies absolutely upon the fact that the road up is NOT the same as the road down (which it does) then very clearly the whole set up is true (or meaningful) only on its own terms! In short, logic relies on inequalities whilst in the Whole, when it is taken as a whole (and not therefore arbitrarily chopped up) there are none.
This is another way of saying that the world created by logic is essentially a nullity, which takes us back to J. G. Bennett’s example of a body that has overall electrical neutrality, but which contains within it many localized instances of polarity. No matter what happens on the local scale, the body as a whole is never either positive or negative. It’s never more one than the other. But since the only way we can plot change when we’re in the rational mode (which as we have been saying relies on localized inequalities, or ‘disymmetries’) is by saying that there’s more of one opposite than the other – that the POSITIVE value is increasing at the expense of the NEGATIVE – and since the only way we can make statements about the world is in terms of this sort of ‘inequality’ everything we ever think or say about the world is only ever going to be meaningful on the local scale.
Our view of the world, our understanding of the world, the type of statements we habitually make about the world, etc, are inevitably ‘only going to be meaningful on a local scale’. There is no way that this can’t be the case since, as we have said, the overall picture is always going balanced with regard to PLUS and MINUS! The ‘Whole of Everything’ (which Heraclitus refers to as ‘the sum of things’ in the quote given above) is never going to be either more on the negative side or more on the positive side – the sum of things is always going to be perfectly balanced, it is always going to be perfectly symmetrical.
It is because the ‘sum of things’ does not exist somewhere on a continuum (on a washing line strung between one opposite and the other) that allows it to ‘flow like a stream’. This quality of ‘flowing like a stream’ indicates that the sum of all things is a dynamic or changing reality, unlike the virtual reality set-up that is created by rational thought (which is necessarily a static kind of an affair). But to say that the bigger picture of reality – which is not constructed in terms of an inequality (or a set of inequalities) between a number of opposites) – is as Heraclitus says flux or change (“All is flux, nothing stays still”.) does not mean that it is ‘change as measured within the confines of a fixed or static framework’. Change that is determined in relation to a fixed standard is never going to be any less static in its nature than the standard which is being use to measure it – which is another way of saying that the type of change which is recognized by rational mind is not actually change at all. This of course is the reason why descriptive statements that are based on measurable or quantifiable change (i.e. change that is counted as ‘meaningful’ by the axial system of the rational mind) are not in any way meaningful in any absolute sense of the word. If ‘all is flux’, then if there is some system or other that sets itself up as not being part of this flux, then it is bound to be an exercise in unreality, a ‘castle built on clouds’!
The Big Picture unfailingly nullifies the little picture created by the thinking mind – it ‘scrubs it clean’, it ‘erases it without a trace’. It ‘makes it as if it had never been’. The a-rational erases the rational; the Whole negates the ratio, as it must always do. This principle however is not something which we like to be aware of! It’s like ‘a fact of life’ that we choose to ignore – if it does come to our attention (which it rarely does) then this awareness is seen as an entirely awful and terrible sort of a thing. It is after all the thorough-going falsification of our system of meaning, the erasure of our framework of reference. It is the utter annihilation of everything we hold dear…
But there’s nothing ‘terrible’ happening really. Our meaning system always was false. Our framework of reference never did have any independent existence. The situation – as constructed by our thinking mind – always was null; it was null from the start – it is just that we were playing a game, we were playing a game that something which is not real, was real… Because the set-up which we are so attached to never was real in the first place, there can be no question that we will ever lose anything. There never was anything there to lose…
When consciousness finds its way to being unpacked from the virtual, mind-created world in which it was contained it is not therefore the case that we move from a place of limited consciousness to a place where there is greater consciousness – the transition from our games to reality is discontinuous, not continuous! The way that this essential discontinuity has been expressed in the mystical traditions of the world is to say that we have to die to this familiar world of ours before we can be reborn in the Eternal Sphere, which is the ‘unconditioned world’, the world that was not ‘made up’ by the thinking mind.
Naturally we have to ‘die’ – we cannot bring what we think we have (and who we think we are) with us on the journey of expanding consciousness. We cannot cling to the familiar old identity that we had in the game and expect somehow to bring it with us! Our possessions within the game remain ‘possessions within the game’, our attainments within the game remain ‘attainments within the game’ and our viewpoint within the game remains our ‘viewpoint within the game’. None of this stuff can be ‘imported into reality’ – brought along with us as if it still somehow means something when it doesn’t. We’d dearly love to bring it with us, but we can’t!
This is the significance of the via negativa or negative path – that we ‘go forward by going back’, that we ‘build ourselves up by breaking ourselves down’. We fondly imagine that the path of self-development occurs by building upon what we already have, by a slow-but-steady process of accretion – a process of adding layer upon layer. We see ourselves advancing on the basis of what we have already heroically attained; we imagine ourselves moving steadily forward on some glorious journey. The negative path isn’t like this however – the negative path involves going backwards to where we started from rather than moving gloriously onwards. It involves unlearning everything we thought we knew, unlearning who we thought we were. In a nutshell, the negative path involves dying to who we thought we were. This is the very well-known – if also very widely disregarded (or very widely misunderstood) message, that we find in the Gospel of Thomas –
Jesus said, “Unless you become like little children, you cannot know the meaning of Life, for your minds must be cleared of the falsehoods of this realm if you are to be taught Eternal Truth.”
When we die to everything we think we know and everything we think we are then we ‘become as little children’. All the clutter and nonsense that we have accumulated in the dream has been let go of and as a result of this ‘unburdening’ we are light and free again, as we were when we started out in this world. We are not weighed down by illusory possessions, nor are we ceaselessly hounded and perplexed by worries in relation to these illusory possessions. We are no longer kept prisoner by our own dull and mechanical thoughts. We are no longer bound and hemmed in by pointless, time-honoured rules and restrictions. What is more, we are no longer obliged to convince ourselves that something worthwhile is ultimately going to come out of all this tiresome packaging…
And yet – despite the unimaginable freedom that comes from ‘letting go’ of all of our mental constructs, all of our hideously repetitive and convoluted games – we have immense resistance to the falsification of our beliefs. Saying that we have ‘immense resistance’ is an understatement – we fear the loss of the falsehoods of this realm beyond anything else. This eventuality constitutes the ultimate catastrophe for us – it constitutes the most terrible thing that could ever befall us. It is ‘the disaster that subsumes all other disasters’; it is the archetypal disaster. We can’t actually define what this archetypal disaster is for ourselves (or why it is so terrible) but then again we don’t need to because it stands for every possible disaster there could ever be. Its all catastrophes rolled into one; it’s the mother of all ‘feared events’!
This resistance (the resistance to having our beliefs falsifies) has an awkward consequence – it has the consequence of leaving us trapped in an illusion. This is really just a version of the famous ‘monkey trap’ – the idea of the trap in question being that when the monkey reaches into the narrow-necked jar and grabs a handful of the tasty peanuts that are in it, it cannot pull its fist out again through the narrow neck without relinquishing its prize. The foolish monkey is therefore trapped by its own greed – or so the story goes. Thus, in same way that the peanut-loving monkey can’t escape to freedom (and evade the trapper who will come to take him away into miserable captivity) because he can’t bear to be separated from the prize that he can never get to eat anyway, so too we can’t escape to freedom from the ‘virtual-reality realm’ (i.e. the closed system) created by our own minds because of our attachment to the ‘advantageous’ stuff we think is in it!
We can’t ‘exit the trap’ because we can’t bear to let go of a whole bunch of illusions that were never going to do us any good ANYWAY since they were never actually there in the first place…
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.