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What is ‘a Rule’?

What ‘a rule’? How do rules work? What they do? How do rules get to be rules? These are all questions that we are very unlikely to ask ourselves during the course of our everyday lives, but they are also questions that could revolutionize our understanding of reality itself, if only we could find the interest to pursue them. If we looked into these questions a bit deeper, what we would discover would – without any doubt – turn our understanding of both ourselves and the world we live in on its head. Whether we actually want this revolution to happen or not is of course another question entirely!




During the course of our lives we concern ourselves with all sorts of questions, the majority of which – although undoubtedly seeming to be very pressing at the time – are vanishingly insignificant. They are ‘the wrong questions’, so to speak. The issues we concern ourselves with, on a never-ending basis, are questions of a ‘trivial’ (or ‘theatrical’) nature. They’re only interesting to us because we choose for them to be. They’re only interesting to us because we have taken a certain outlook or perspective for granted. This is in itself evidence of an ‘inversion of values’ – it’s an inversion of values because we’re only interested in the type of questions that we are interested in because we’re not interested in examining the assumptions that give rise to them! An interest in trivial questions is an inversion of interest therefore – it’s a manifestation of our profound ‘lack of interest’ in the world…



Our interest in rules is all about obeying them when it comes right down to it, it is all about ‘taking them for granted’ and this inverted interest (or inverted curiosity) absolutely precludes any interest in the rules themselves – either in what the particular rules are that we happen to be obeying or what ‘rules’ in general are actually all about in the first place. We haven’t the slightest bit of interest in questioning our basis. We couldn’t be less interested! The starting point for meaningful change has to be genuine curiosity therefore and if we don’t have this genuine curiosity then clearly we’re not going to get anywhere. We’re going to be content with any old nonsense – any sort of half-baked garbage will satisfy us because we really not going to be looking into it that deeply. We won’t understand what rules are about if we try to understand them from the basis of the rational mind either. This also isn’t going to get us anywhere. The rational mind is never curious about the world – how can it be when all it ever does is to mechanically slot stuff into its ready-made categories? There is no way that we can get insight into rules from the basis of the thinking mind because the thinking mind is nothing more than a collection of rules itself! The everyday thinking mind is profoundly unreflective by its very nature – it’s profoundly unreflective because it’s based on rules and there’s nothing in the world more ‘unreflective’ than a rule…




If however we suspend our normal rational ‘smart-ass’ or ‘know-it-all’ approach to things then we should be able to understand what exactly a rule is and how it works. We’re in with a good chance, at least. The first thing that we can say on the subject of rules is that a rule works by denying or repressing the whole of reality. That is its starting off point – it can’t do anything until it gets rid of reality, until it makes out that there’s no such thing as reality! This is an absolute prerequisite. If reality equals ‘the light’, then what a rule does is to cover up the light, blanket over the light, obscure the light etc. The rule denies or represses all of reality apart from the vanishingly small portion that agrees with it, the portion that has been specified by it. This might seem to conflict with what we have just said, which is that the rule denies ‘the whole of reality’ (not just the biggest part of it) but it turns out there is no contradiction here. There’s no contradiction because the part of reality that agrees with the rule isn’t actually part of reality at all. It isn’t a part of reality precisely because it agrees with the rule – anything that agrees with a rule (i.e. a specification) can’t be real.




The bottom line is that whatever it is that the rule specifies is the rule and rules aren’t actually real things. A rule works by ‘agreeing with itself’ (by being ‘logically consistent’) and anything that ‘agrees with itself’ can’t be real. Anything that specifies itself can’t be real! It’s a tautology in that case, it’s a closed loop of self-reference and so it can’t be real. This is a basic principle. When a statement claims validity on the basis that it agrees with (or supports) itself then straightaway we know two things:


[1] We know that the statement in question has a type of ‘surface-level validity’ that is being provided by itself (a validity that will remain plausible just so long as we passively accept or go along with the so-called ‘reality’ that is being presented to us).


[2] We know that the statement is profoundly meaningless (or ‘empty’) because it is self-referential.


Another way of putting this is to say that all self-agreeing statements (i.e. all definite / positive statements) are redundant but can nevertheless appear non-redundant if we take them within the terms which they themselves present themselves within. For there to be some actual information present there would have to be some degree of ‘uncertainty’, some degree of essential ‘mismatch’ between the signifier and what is being signified. Radical (or non-trivial) uncertainty is another way of talking about information, in other words, whilst the type of flat unremarkable certainty that comes about as a result of self-agreement equals ‘zero information’. As soon as we see this then it becomes immediately clear that what we’re dealing with here (when we’re talking about a rule-based or logical system) is a ‘make-believe world’, a world that is founded upon a basic deception, the deception in question being that virtual information (which is ‘disguised redundancy’) is not virtual or make-believe at all but is in fact the honest-to-goodness real or genuine article.



We are now in a position to summarize everything that has so far been said as follows: a rule becomes a rule by denying reality. We can talk about ‘reality’ in terms of information (or ‘newness’) and say therefore that a rule works by denying information, by denying newness. This cannot be done honestly or the rule still won’t be a rule – it will be less than a rule, it will be ‘a rule that we don’t have to take seriously if we don’t want to’, which is no rule at all. So the way that it works is that genuine information / genuine newness gets replaced by virtual information, or counterfeit newness. This is the principle of simulation as set out by Jean Baudrillard. When we have replaced genuine information with the virtual variety then we have a world that is made up of hard and fast rules, rules that no one can question. Actually, what happens when we get rid of genuine information or newness (which is as we have said the same thing as ‘radical uncertainty’) is that we obtain a reality that is wholly made up of a rules, a world that is a logical construct and nothing else. The inversion that we keep on talking about has taken place – from this point onwards ‘all that is’ is rules because rules determine what is…




This ‘isness’ (the isness that is produced by rules) isn’t isness at all really however, as we have already said – it’s the photographic inverse, the photographic negative of ‘isness’. It’s false information disguised as information, it’s the old passing itself off as the new. When we are living in the world that is created by rules (which is the ‘formal system’ or ‘simulation’) we are living in a world in which the genuinely new has been banished completely, banished so completely that we can’t remember it, banished so completely that we can no longer even imagine that there could be such a thing. Instead of the new therefore, we are now giving all our attention to the ‘trivially new’, which comes down to following the throw of a dice, waiting to see what number comes up. The difference between a one and a six thus becomes a genuinely meaningful one to us when in reality no matter what number comes up for us it’s still just the same old dice, the same old mechanical system cranking out its limited possibilities. Nothing radically new can ever happen.



The point at which the trivial uncertainty of the closed system replaces radical uncertainty is the point at which our orientation towards reality changes completely, therefore. If we are orientated towards radical uncertainty (which is to say, if we are paying attention to genuine change or genuine newness) then we are ‘facing reality’, so to speak. If we’re interested in the genuinely new, then we’re interested in reality! When on the other hand everything switches around and we become interested in counterfeit newness / disguised redundancy / pseudo-information instead of the genuine article then ‘we’re facing away from reality without knowing that we’re facing away’. We’re facing unreality instead of reality. We’ve got our back to reality, although we won’t admit it, and are incapable of seeing that this is the case.




What bigger ‘change of orientation’ could there be than this? Either I’m looking at the light, or I’m looking at the shadows in the manner of Plato’s shackled prisoners in the cave who don’t know how to turn around and look at the light so that they can find out what’s really happening. Instead, their attention is captured by the futile play of shadows, which means nothing – it’s just a distraction from reality. These – we might therefore say – are the two possibilities that are open to us – either we’re conscious or we’re unconscious, either we’re orientated towards the truth or we’re orientated towards delusion. These are the two directions that we can move in, depending upon whether we’re open to reality or closed off from it, depending upon whether we’re curious’ or ‘afraid’. Another way of putting this is to say that the two possibilities which are open to us are the possibilities of either being ‘real’ or being ‘unreal’. It’s not quite as simple as this however since we could (arguably) be ‘real moving in the direction of unreal’ or ‘unreal moving in the direction of real’. There are two directions we could be moving in, as we have just said a moment ago. And as we have also just said, this comes down to the question of whether we are interested in what is real, what is ‘out there’, or whether we are afraid to find out



If we are afraid of what’s out there then we can’t afford to be honest about this state of affairs. We can’t afford to let ourselves know that this is the case. If we were honest about the fact that we are ‘afraid of what’s out there’ then we would of course straightaway tip ourselves off about the existence of this fear and once we know that the fear is there, once we know that the fear exists, then we can’t help being reminded of the thing that we are afraid of and this is the one thing we don’t want to do. The very last thing we want to do is remind ourselves of the thing that we are afraid of! We can’t therefore let on that we’re not interested in reality, that we’re not ‘orientated towards reality’, so what we do instead is to put something there in place of reality, something safe, something that isn’t going to turn around and surprise us. This something’ is the ‘mind-created simulation’, it is the logical or positive construct. This of course is an absolutely brilliant gimmick. It’s a stroke of pure genius! We can then pay lip-service to life, to freedom, to truth, to love, to the human spirit, etc, without ever running the risk of actually encountering what it is we’re talking about. We can prattle on quite happily about how great these values are without ever meaning a single word that we say, and – most importantly – without knowing that we don’t mean a single word that we say!




We value neither truth nor freedom – we only value the simulation’s sanitized version of them. We don’t ‘love life’ – we love the system’s tame version of life. This safe version of life is actually the sworn enemy of life, just as the illusion (or the simulation) is the sworn enemy of the un-manipulated reality. This antagonism is the natural order of things – that the image (or symbol) should deny the reality which is supposedly being represented is simply the way that things work. The hyperreal excludes the real. The key to everything (when we’re living in the simulation, in the rule-based world) is fear. Psychologically speaking, fear is what gives the rule its hold on us, its power over us. It’s not so much that we’re ‘afraid to disobey the rule’, ‘afraid to not do what it says we ought to’, but that we’re afraid to look at what lies behind the rule. We’re afraid to look at why it suits us so much to have the rule there, we’re afraid of what might happen if we don’t have all these rules there telling us what to do the whole time. Who knows what we might find if the rule isn’t there to protect us? We might perhaps find that we’re free not to enact for the ten billionth time the deterministic formula which is our history, our mind-produced script of who we are and what life is all about. We might find that we’re free not to adhere to the limited pattern which is our conditioned life. We might find that we’re free to see the world in some way other than the way which is compulsorily presented to us by some arbitrary set of rules, by some unreal ‘closed system’. The big question is, how frightening would that be?




Generally speaking of course we would have to say that this manifestation of freedom proves to be very frightening indeed. Stuff doesn’t get any more frightening than this! As we have just said, fear is what drives the whole system of avoidance, the whole system of denial. The avoidance fuels the need to avoid – the system ‘feeds off itself’, in other words… To understand rules is to understand fear, therefore. The rule, like fear, presents itself as being ‘the final reality’ – a reality which we simply cannot go beyond. The rule is the literal truth – it’s ‘the way things are’. It is unquestionable certainty. This however is a complete hoax – fear is no more a final reality than the rule is. The rule isn’t a final reality because we ourselves have arranged for it to be there; what lies ‘behind it’ is our intention, so to speak. It’s our desire not to see what lies behind the rule. The rule would be there if it wasn’t for us and neither would the fear be there if it wasn’t for us. The fear is after all simply the other side of the rule!



We don’t create fear just by creating a rule – we create fear by creating a rule whilst at the same time not allowing ourselves from seeing that it is ourselves who have created it. The ‘double-manoeuvre’ which we use to create ontological security for ourselves (i.e. putting the rule in place and then hiding this action from ourselves) is also the manoeuvre by which we (unwittingly) create fear… As a culture, we come out with all sorts of facile explanations about what fear is; we say that it is adrenaline or a learned response or natural selection’s way of making sure we don’t take stupid risks. We’re very clever about saying what fear is and these clever explanations are themselves our sneaky avoidance of fear, our spurious way of feeling that we ‘know what is going on’. Our explanations of fear aren’t so much ‘wrong’ as they are ridiculously superficial – they’re there to distract us from looking too deeply into things. Fear isn’t something we can neatly wrap up and put in a box – fear is actually the flip-side of being the conditioned self. Fear is inseparable from the mind-created self, inseparable from the mind-created security of the simulation. As long as we’re being run by the system as ‘unreal simulations of ourselves’ then we will be ruled by fear – whether we are willing to admit it or not.




Ontological security is fear – we just for the life of us can’t see it. We think (as far as we think anything at all, that is) that ontological security is the cure for fear, the perfect antidote for fear. But the rule equals fear and we can’t for the life of us see it because we can only see one side of things, the ‘security-producing’ side. Buying into the rule means ‘only seeing one side of things’ – that’s the whole point, that’s how rules work. Rules involve entropy, rules makes us unconscious. We’re not conscious of fear, but rather fear is a function of our unconsciousness.  Instead of saying that the rule produces the double-sided package of ontological security / fear we might just as well say that the rule produces the self. We might as well say that the rule is the self (or that the self is the rule). The package of ‘ontological security plus fear’ and ‘the self’ are one and the same thing – we can’t have the one without the other. The conditioned or mind-created self is made up of ‘fear’ on the one hand and ‘the denial of fear’ on the other and its perennial endeavour, its ‘never-ending project’ is to turn its back on the actual reality of its situation.




The illusion of ontological security is another way of talking about the illusion of logical consistency, which is something we very much don’t see as an illusion, but if rules don’t exist (as we have already said) then clearly the consistency that is created by rules can’t exist either! Logical consistency is where everything that happens has to happen within the terms of the framework being used; it is where everything that happens has to happen according rules, according to what we call ‘cause-and-effect’. The domain of cause and effect is however only an abstraction (reality is an ungoverned unfolding, a spontaneous movement, not the pre-programmed surprise-less acting out of a pattern) and so when we restrict our awareness to the closed domain of the logical continuum (which is the same thing as the thinking mind) then the price we pay for this is that our consciousness then becomes no more than the slave of that logical continuum, the slave of the rules that are making up the system, and this means that there isn’t actually any consciousness there! Rules can’t give rise to consciousness any more than they can give rise to actual information! We end up as a result of this ‘restriction of awareness’ with a situation in which there is no such thing as freedom. There is only the feeble illusion of freedom. This is surely no surprise – what else could we possibly expect to happen as a result of replacing reality with a formal system?



There’s no consciousness there in the formal system, there’s only the ‘automatic going along with the mechanical laws that make up the system’. We automatically go along with the rules whilst imaging that what the rules are telling us to do is actually what we really want to do! We don’t know that there is such a thing as genuine freedom because genuine freedom has been replaced by the logical continuum, by the mechanical operation of ‘cause-and-effect’ and this is the unconscious life in a nutshell .



The unconscious life essentially consists of believing that a lot of stuff is real when it isn’t. We believe that we’re in charge, not the mechanical rules. We believe that we’ve got free will when we haven’t. We believe that we are this supposedly autonomous and authentic ‘self’ when really this so-called ‘self’ is just another construct of the ubiquitous logical system. We believe that what we perceive as ‘reality’ genuinely is the real thing, when that’s a construct of the logical system too. We believe that what’s unreal is real, whilst ‘the real’ is something that we practically never encounter…




Because we have no connection with the real world we ourselves aren’t real. We are unreal entities living in an unreal world. We’re dreamers in a world made up of dreams. And yet that the same time we can never truly lose our relationship with reality; we can’t lose this relationship no matter what we do, no matter how much we twist and turn, but the way that it works is that when we’re in the ‘inverted world’ of the logical system our relationship with reality is also inverted. What – we might ask – is an ‘inverted relationship with reality’? Simply put, it is when we turn our backs on the real, when we refuse to acknowledge the real, when we don’t want to have any sort of relationship with the real. We’re pretending that it’s not there, we’re running away and at the same time we’re saying that we’re not running away. This is all a bit of a farce however because we’re trying to run away from something that we can’t run away from. On the surface level of things it could be said that we have no relationship with the truth of our situation; this ‘surface-level disconnect’ is however no more than an empty act of bravado – it doesn’t change a thing. When I turn my back on reality and live in the inverted world of positive or defined appearances all that this means is that I am afraid of reality, afraid of the truth, and this fear – which I cannot run away from no matter how much I may wish to – is my ‘inverted relationship’.




An inverted relationship is a very confusing sort of one – we’re constantly trying to avoid something that can’t be avoided (without letting ourselves know that we’re doing so) and we’re constantly trying to proceed in a direction that we can’t proceed in (because it’s a direction that doesn’t exist). We see anything that helps (or rather seems to help) us move in the unreal direction as being ‘good’ and anything that seems to be obstructing us in this regard as being ‘bad’. This is the basis of our value system, laughably enough! And as for what is truly good, truly beneficial, we try our very best to be permanently unaware of it (without of course letting on that we are doing any such thing) and when we do become aware of it – as we will do sooner or later – our reaction is one of total fear. This therefore – by any standard – has got to be counted as being ‘a very confused relationship with reality’!



When we are orientated towards unreality, and are in total denial of our true situation, then we ourselves are unreal.  The only thing about us that isn’t unreal is our fear, and this is something that we can’t help understanding backwards. When we are orientated towards reality (or ‘the truth’) to any degree, then this itself confers reality on us. Or rather we could say that this degree of favourable inclination – however slight – to see something about reality constitutes our ‘remembering of who we are’. Either there is ‘forgetting’ or there in ‘remembering’ in other words and the interplay between these two inclinations (the one mechanical and the other ‘conscious’) is what constitutes the Cosmic Drama (or Eternal War) which we cannot help playing our part in. The first type of impulse, the impulse to forget, is easy to understand and this is what we have been talking about in this discussion. The second impulse – the impulse to remember – is on the other hand utterly unfathomable and no one can say how or why it arises…









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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