Consciousness Versus The Machine

We get trapped in the machine because we adapt ourselves to it and the reason we adapt ourselves to it is because we want to use it and unless we adapt ourselves to the machine we won’t be able to operate it. We adapt ourselves to the machine by learning to see things its way and the danger here (the very great danger!) is that once we do this then we can forget how to look at the world in any other way. Once we adapt ourselves to the machine’s way of looking at things then we are only a hair’s breadth away from having the tables turned on us so that instead of us using the machine we are being used by it, so that instead of us controlling it the machine controls us. This is very far from being an unheard-of principle of course but just because we might have heard of the principle in some connection or other that doesn’t mean that we’ve been sufficiently warned! We haven’t been sufficiently warned at all, or if we have then we weren’t paying attention at the time. We obviously didn’t take it on board – if we had done then we wouldn’t be in the mess that we are now.

The thing about ‘adapting ourselves to the machine’ is that this necessarily involves an irreversible loss of information. In order to ‘take seriously what the machine takes seriously’ (i.e. in order to see the world in its way) we have to shed an awful lot of ‘relativity’. In the non-machine-like world rules exist only if we agree for them to; we have the freedom to decide whether there should be rules or not. In the machine-world rules are unquestionably important because the machine says they are, because the ‘seriousness’ of these rules is built into the very structure of that machine. Machines are machines because they take certain rules very seriously and are at all times utterly and completely inflexible in this regard. What we are basically saying here therefore is that in order to use a machine we ourselves must become ‘machine-like’; in order to use a machine we are required to ‘narrow ourselves down’ in other words, and the thing about this is that when we narrow ourselves we automatically lose our ability to see that we have become narrowed down – this is why we speak of this process as one involving ‘irreversible information loss’. Learning to see the world as a machine does is what we might call Cosmic Forgetting (or Cosmic Amnesia) – we have forgotten something huge, something tremendous, but we don’t remember having forgotten it! By getting engrossing in the details of the game completely forgotten about the ‘bigger picture’ and this makes everything we do both ridiculous and futile. It makes everything we do both ridiculous and futile, and also punishing. The machine-like world is a world that is not only utterly lacking in freedom, but also lacking in compassion.

The key difference between the machine world and the non-machine world is that the latter is essentially playful whilst the former is not. This turns out to be a very big difference indeed. We have equated the machine with a game but this doesn’t mean that what takes place in the game is at all playful; games (specifically what James Carse calls ‘finite games’) very far indeed from being playful – they are on the contrary deadly serious. We all know this anyway – what after all could be more serious than the person who is giving everything they’ve got in the desperate struggle to win rather than lose? What could be more serious than trying to win? A finite game is a very black-and-white sort of an affair – to win is the greatest thing in the world and to lose is the worst thing, so what could be less playful than this? A game gets to be a game by taking away our freedom, by taking away all ‘playfulness’ out of the situation, and this is why serious game players hate people who don’t take their game seriously. People who don’t take our games seriously remind us (in a way that we don’t understand) that there is such a thing as freedom (or playfulness) and this threatens everything, as far as we’re concerned. Finite game-players don’t like freedom because freedom is the one thing that is guaranteed to make a total nonsense of everything they take seriously; the threat of us having our game falsified happens to be something that we (predictably enough) take very seriously indeed! We have zero sense of humour about this sort of thing…

Saying that we lose our playfulness when we adapt to the machine is just another way of saying that we lose the ability to see that the way the machine requires us to see things isn’t the only way – this is the freedom that we lose without knowing that we have lost anything. The ‘very big thing’ that we have forgotten about is that there is more to life than trying to adapt successfully to the machine (or to the finite game, which comes to the same thing). We have forgotten that the universe is essentially playful in nature and that there is no inbuilt compulsion saying that we should do this, or do that, or do the other. Human beings love making up rules and then the next thing is that we get upset when someone comes along who doesn’t take these rules seriously but in reality there are no rules in reality itself there is something different something else, something that we might call radical freedom. ‘Radical freedom’ might sound rather unfamiliar to us as a concept but all we talking about here is play; play is not something that is given much consideration in the Judaeo-Christian tradition, if any – it has been noted that the Bible is notable as having almost as being almost devoid of any humour and as a result humour tends to be seen as us as being somehow ‘irreligious’, at least in any important matters.

Everyone likes to think that they have a sense of humour, needless to say, and amongst collections of ‘Bible jokes’ that we find on the internet (which attempt to show that there is indeed humour in the Bible) we also find important provisos such as ‘the Word of God is not to be laughed at’. We might be laughing but we must not laugh too much – our laughter must not get out of hand. For a serious message humour is always a dangerous thing – it can be tamed and ‘kept in place’ but it can also all too easily escape the bounds that have been and turn satirical. What we are looking at here is the phenomenon of ‘trying to contain the infinite game within a finite one’ – we’re trying to have humour and lightheartedness (because we know there’s something wrong if this element is missing) but within a serious context. This however is exactly the same as trying to have freedom (which we all know is good) within an unfree context; this is as Carse says an impossible thing – we cannot contain the infinite game within the bounds of finite play. If there is to be humour then it cannot be in any way restricted and if there is to be freedom then there cannot be any limitations placed on it. The notion that conventional Christianity is ‘perfectly okay with humour’ just doesn’t wash – we only need consider the bloody history of the Church to be reminded of this. There is no such thing as ‘a serious message’ outside of the artificial context of a finite game however, and this is reflected by the following quote from the Tibetan Buddhist sage Longchenpa –

In the experience of yogins who do not perceive things dualistically, the fact that things manifest without truly existing is so amazing they burst into laughter.

The stark humourlessness of the ‘Word of God’ can be contrasted with the nondual view of reality which is that the nature of reality itself is humorous; as Longchenpa also says –

Since things neither exist nor do not exist, are neither real nor unreal, are utterly beyond adopting and rejecting – one might as well burst out laughing.

If we don’t know if there is such a thing as ‘existence or non-existence’ then how can we take the notion of existence seriously? How we make important and portentous pronouncements about it? We can only come out with ‘serious messages’ about our own made-up constructs and this is why our seriousness is such a brittle and easily threatened sort of a thing.

It might be said therefore – with ample justification – that our cultural bias in the West has caused us to misinterpret life as being deadly serious affair and that it is all about making sure that we get it right rather than getting it wrong (which is the ultimate ‘unacceptable outcome’). There’s no way anyone can try to say that it isn’t what Western culture is about – we all know very well that it is despite the fact that we might be loath to admit it. Our rational/materialist culture is all about competition and winning and the implicit devaluation of anyone who isn’t a winner in the consumer game we are playing and this world-view is currently in the process of becoming the only view of life that anyone is ever going to know about. It’s a viral viewpoint that is rapidly taking over the whole planet. In the non-monotheistic traditions such as Vedanta, Buddhism and Daoism the inherently playful nature of reality is not de-emphasised however and we don’t get this terrible punishing emphasis on ‘winning versus losing’, ‘being right versus being wrong’, ‘obeying God versus disobeying Him’ (with all the guilt and fear of punishment that this entails). Lila, or ‘cosmic play’, is at the very heart of the Vedantic worldview and according to the Dao De Jing the Dao  does not lord it over all the things in the world, unlike the Judaeo-Christian idea of the All-powerful Father God with His very serious ‘plans’ for the human race. The Dao doesn’t have any plans! Similarly, when Brahma dissolves himself in the Cosmic Game (which is we might say ‘the Game of Forgetting and Remembering’) he doesn’t do this whilst hanging onto any ‘plan’ that he might have with regards to the outcome of this experiment! Brahma isn’t afraid to ‘let go’ and see what happens…

‘Seriousness’ – when it comes down to it – means one thing and one thing only – it means that we have forgotten both our own true nature and the nature of the universe that we are living in. It means that we have adapted all too well to the machine world that we have so incautiously created for ourselves with the result that the only view of life we have is the one that has been provided for us by the machine. The Machine (or Finite Game) only knows two things – ‘adherence to the rules’ or ‘deviation from the rules’. Either the machine’s specifications have been met (which by definition is ‘the best thing ever’ and cause for jubilation on a grand scale) or these all-important criteria have not been met and so what we’re talking about here is simply ‘error’. ‘How much does the machine value error?’ we might ask in our innocence. The answer is of course that it values it not at all. The machine has only the one interest in error and that is in eliminating it. In one way this is of course fine since the machine could never work as a machine, and do what it is supposed to do, unless it steers away from error, but in another way this simplistic mode of understanding the world is not in the least bit fine because what happens – when everything gets subsumed within the machine (or subsumed within the finite game) – is that there is no place left for consciousness, since consciousness has nothing to do with final outcomes whilst machines (on the other hand) don’t care about anything else.

Consciousness and machines don’t mix, we might say – they don’t mix because they represent starkly antithetical principles. Whilst consciousness can operate a machine (if we avoid the trap of having the tables turned on us) a machine can never support consciousness. In a machine, as we have said, there are only TWO THINGS – there are either ‘obeying the rules’ and ‘disobeying them’. Consciousness however has nothing whatsoever to do either succeeding or failing, getting it right are getting it wrong, ‘obeying’ or ‘not obeying’ – there is therefore nothing ‘machine-like’ about it at all. There is nothing machine-like about consciousness (or ‘reality’) and yet ‘the Machine’ (or ‘the System’) is all we know…






Art: Margo Selski, The Machine in the Garden







The Predicament of ‘Socialization’

When we say that ‘society creates the generic self’, (or that society ‘only values the generic self’) we are making a very straightforward point. Who could ever deny this, after all? And yet even though this is so very obviously true, we never pay any attention to psychological or philosophical implications of this observation. Society’s part in creating the generic self is as we have just said nothing if not obvious; we all know what happens to people in a group – their actual individuality is submerged in the generic identity. Everyone in the group tacitly agrees to conform to the way of thinking that everyone else has conformed to and the result of this is that no one has any responsibility for anything! We hand over responsibility to the group but the big problem with this is that a group is not a real thing. A ‘group’ is the result of ‘an agreement that has been made’ and this means that it is only ‘real’ because we have agreed for it to be so. This means that it isn’t real, in other words. A group is ‘a collection of people in lock-step’ who have all tacitly agreed to let their individuality be subsumed by the ‘common blueprint’ regarding ‘how to think’ or ‘how to be in the world’. It is very rare that we confront this truth head on and even rarer that we allow ourselves to see the full implications of this agreement of ours; this great reluctance on our part to bring any awareness to the ‘predicament of socialisation’ doesn’t spare us from its impact on our mental health however. As Jung says, just because we don’t know of our ‘sin’ (the ‘sin of unconsciousness’!) this doesn’t mean that nature won’t punish us for it! Put very simply, adhering as we almost always do adhere to the societal blueprint for ‘how we supposed to be in the world’ means that we can’t grow, and this is a very good price for the privilege of ‘getting on with everybody’! It’s not just the case that it is a shame (or ‘a sad thing’) that we don’t ever realise the potential that we’re capable of realising, but that the unrealised potential turns toxic and becomes a destructive force in its own right. As Jesus says in Verse 70 of the Gospel of Thomas –

If you bring forth what is within you, what you bring forth will save you. If you do not bring forth what is within you, what you do not bring forth will destroy you.

We can also quote from the writings of Erich Fromm in this connection:

The more the drive toward life is thwarted, the stronger is the drive toward destruction; the more life is realized, the less is the strength of destructiveness. Destructiveness is the outcome of unlived life.

 

Our social environment can only do one of two things therefore: it can either support us in our growth by providing a cultural milieu in which the idea of ‘moving beyond ourselves’ is not a thoroughly alien concept, or it can thwart our growth by creating a world in which the static ego-identity is implicitly seen as the ultimate statement of ‘who we are’ and ‘our passport to a joyful, exciting and fulfilling life’. These are the two possibilities and there is no midway point – it’s either ‘the one or the other’. Without any doubt whatsoever it can be said that the particular social milieu within which we find ourselves comes under the second category – we are inundated from all sides with the basic ‘subliminal message’ that says the ego-identity is most definitely our passport to a meaningful and fulfilling existence. This message is inbuilt into our language, into our very way of thinking about things. All commercial advertising is based on this premise as is the entire structure of our capitalist/consumerist way of life, which exists purely for the benefit of the static, two-dimensional ego-identity – without our unquestioning acceptance of this hypothetical abstract entity the whole thing becomes quite meaningless.

 

The unreflective identification with the static identity (or the concrete ‘sense of self’) absolutely prohibits ‘growth’ however – very clearly it does! Growth isn’t the name of the game at all, something else is – something that does not involve growth or transcendence in any shape or form! What the game is about is the glorification of this abstract, static-or-concrete ‘sense of self’ and this is another kettle of fish entirely. This is what James Carse calls ‘a finite game’. When we glorify (or obsess over) the abstract or ideal value only one thing can ever happen and that is that we get caught up in an oscillation between ‘exaltation’ one extreme end and ‘despair’ at the other. There is no real movement taking place – certainly no ‘growth’ – just this internal swinging back-and-forth between the two extremes, both of which are just as unhealthy as the other! We swing back and forth between these two unhealthy extremes and that’s the end of it! That’s our existence in a nutshell. It’s a circle.  And what’s more, for most of us it isn’t the case that we even ever hit these two dramatic extremes – we merely vibrate somewhere in the middle range, somewhere in the murky grey zone, so to speak. ‘Growth’ – or ‘real change’ – means not fixating on the self and its obsessive concerns’ it means moving beyond the static ego-identity, as we royally said, and it is precisely this type of movement that we have no concept for.

 

‘Going beyond the self’ does not mean ‘being unselfish’, which is something that we might quite understandably assume. It is the self that ‘acts unselfishly’ – this mode of behaviour that we call unselfishness is when the self strains to go against its own innate inclinations, this is where the ego represses its own innate inclinations. Unselfishness – from a moral point of view – is where ‘the self struggles mightily to be what it is not’ – the leopard is striving heroically to change his spots. From the point of view of the ego-identity, behaving altruistically is always an uphill struggle and when it does this for any length of time it naturally expects to receive a medal for it! Going beyond the self is not a purposeful thing however; it is not something that happens as a result of striving and straining. It’s certainly not something that happens as a result of us making goals (and this is always a deeply disappointing for us to find out because we think that goals are the answer to everything). Goals are the projection of the self, not the means by which we can go beyond it. If someone were to ask how we could ‘go beyond the self’, one answer would be to say that it is our innate curiosity that takes us beyond the self – the concrete ego-identity can never be curious about anything, it just doesn’t have it in it! The concrete ego-identity has only two ways of relating to the world, one being attraction and the other aversion; either it likes something and wants to get closer to it (or  – ideally – engulf it completely) or it dislikes something and wants to get as far away from it as is possible (or destroy it, if it can). The ego-identity is mechanical in its nature therefore – which is to say, it never looks beyond itself. It has no concept for ‘looking beyond itself’.

 

Another way of putting this is to say that the thinking mind is ‘mechanical’ (because all it does is follow rules) and the result of identifying with this mechanical mind is that we lose the ability to go beyond ourselves – the rational mind can’t take us beyond ourselves any more than it can take us beyond itself. All thought can ever do is extend itself, after all. To understand this is to understand is that ‘going beyond ourselves’ is not a problem that can be sold by the application of logic – methods embroil us in thought further rather than free us from it. Curiosity has nothing to do with logic however; to be curious about the world is not the same as to be thinking about it. ‘Being curious about the world’ isn’t as innocent as we might think either – being curious about the world is very short step from ‘asking questions about the status quo’ and the one thing the social system can’t take is someone who asks questions about the status quo! The ‘agreement’ only gets to be ‘an agreement’ by us not asking any further questions; that’s what as agreement is – the tacit understanding that no one is going to ask any further questions on the subject. The ‘game’ only gets to be played when no one asks any questions about the rules of the game, and why we should carry on playing. That is the one question we must never ask in a game – why we are continuing to play it! ‘Why?’ and ‘the mechanical modality’ just don’t go together; the mechanical modality is based on obeying rules not questioning them.

 

There is more to curiosity than we might think therefore – although we all like to think of ourselves as possessing a fair degree of healthy curiosity about the world the truth of the matter is that very few of us have any real curiosity at all. If we did then we would be questioning this way of life that we have, this way of life that society has given us, this way of living that we have somehow created for ourselves, and if we questioned it in this way then we wouldn’t be able to carry on pursuing the goals that society tells us we should be pursuing. Curiosity – if truly followed – will always result in us asking ourselves why we are playing the game that we’re playing (or why we are living life in the very narrow way that we are living it). There is absolutely no way that we will be able to carry on running on the very narrow tracks we used to be running on; that’s no longer going to be a possibility for us because we have now seen what we are not supposed to see. What we are ‘not supposed to have seen’ can be explained in two ways – [1] that our goals, aims and values in life are not truly ours, and [2] that ‘who we take ourselves to be’ is not actually us either. Insight into this fundamental confusion between our ‘actual inalienable nature’ and ‘who or what we are told we are’ cannot fail to upset our view of things in a very big way; even if we do carry on pretty much the same as before (and the fact remains that we will still have to exist and make a living in some way within the system as it is unless we can somehow sprout wings and fly away) what we now see life being about has radically changed – we no longer see our ‘fulfillment’ as being synonymous with the attaining of the standards or benchmarks that society so authoritatively supplies us with. Instead, we see our fulfillment as something that is to be found within the journey from ‘who we automatically understand ourselves to be’ to ‘somewhere else’, somewhere that exists ‘at right angles’ to everything we know and are familiar with, and which is – on  this account – completely incomprehensible (or ‘completely invisible’) to us. Instead of seeing the meaning of our lives as something that is to be found within the journey ‘from one known to another’, we come to realise that life itself is ‘the movement beyond’, and that it has absolutely nothing to do with our hopes and fears, our theories and beliefs, our goals and intentions.

 

As soon as we come to see that there is this incomprehensible movement going on (Krishnamurti’s ‘movement from one unknown to another’ or David Bohm’s Holomovement) then the mechanical process by which we enact certain goals or intentions ceases to hold the utter fascination for us that it used to have; the mechanical aspect of the world still exists and cannot be gotten about, but it is no longer seen as being ‘where life lies’, it is no longer seen as being crucially important in the way we always used to think it was. We no longer ‘hung up’ on it, as Alan Watts would say; we no longer fundamentally anxious about it in the way that we used to be. When we are in the mechanical (or generic) mode of being then we are like a person with a bad gambling addiction – we live in the big wide mysterious world the same as everyone else does, but all we are ever interested in is looking to see which way the dice will fall when we throw them on the ground. A lot hangs on that, after all! If three  ‘twos’ come up for us then that’s bad news and we will feel gutted; if on the other hand we get three ‘sixes’ then we will be jubilant, we will be ‘over the moon’. Nothing new ever happens in the game (which is precisely why it is a game) but we remain utterly transfixed by it all the same. We are 100% hypnotised, like the legendary ‘rabbit caught in the headlights’. The game is the only thing of interest to us; if we are to find any fulfilment in life it is to be here, located within the prosaic process of obtaining a high score rather than a low one.

 

The ‘great wide world’ lies all around us, to be sure, but we couldn’t be less interested in it. We are profoundly uninterested in it and this is the ‘lack of curiosity’ that we spoke of earlier. When we are caught up in what we are calling ‘the mechanical mode of being’ then all we can ever care about is ‘obtaining the right outcome’ – obtaining the right outcome means everything to us. When we are in ‘the generic mode of relating to the world’ then all we are interested in are ‘generic outcomes’; we couldn’t care less about the ‘non-generic’. We couldn’t care less about the non-generic and yet the ‘non-generic’ is reality itself! Anything that doesn’t ‘fit the bill’ with regard to ‘what we think it should be’ is dismissed instantly, it is dismissed without us even knowing that we have dismissing anything. Life itself is automatically dismissed; life itself is automatically dismissed without us even realising that we are dismissing anything. It is dismissed in order to facilitate us ‘playing the game’.