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







Echo World

When we live in the Defined World, then we live in it as the ‘defined identity’ and there are absolutely no other possibilities than that – the one implies the other. Moreover, we can also add that the defined identity is the only sort of ‘identity’ there is! In the absence of definition there is going to be no identity. In the absence of the Defined World there can be no identity…

This kind of statement doesn’t really tend to make much of an impact on us for the simple reason that we automatically assume that the Defined World is the only sort of world there is. How could the world not be the way we have defined it as being? As soon as we ask this question however (which is something we practically never do) then we can see that it is very naïve. If the world is defined then that is only because we ourselves have defined it – certainly didn’t come that way! This means that we could equally well have defined it differently or – even more significantly – we could have not defined it at all…

We define the world according to the uses we have for it and this is a perfectly legitimate and perfectly reasonable thing to do. As biological organisms we have needs that cannot be denied and so we are obliged – by the nature of this ‘survival game’ that we are playing – to define or conceptualise the world in terms of these needs. The ‘use’ we are putting this world to is the ‘use’ of having our biological needs met therefore – this is what we are necessarily ‘tuning into’. Other stuff – stuff that is not important for our ongoing survival – is not really going to be of any concern to us. So, just to give a very general example here, if I am an animal of some sort then I’m always going to be on the lookout for either ‘things that I can eat’, or ‘things that can eat me’! If I don’t stay on the lookout for aspects of my environment that fall into either one or the other of these two categories, then I’m not going to last very long.

My environment also contains a lot of stuff that doesn’t fit into either of these categories, but because it’s neither significant to me as ‘something I can eat’ nor ‘something that can eat me’ I can afford to ignore it. It doesn’t help me any pay attention to it and so I don’t – the game of survival is too pressing for that. Irrelevant details are necessary invisible to me.We do of course have more needs and the need to find stuff to eat and the need to avoid being eaten but it’s the same principle; no matter how many needs we have it’s always the same principle – when we have needs that we have to tune into then that makes us blind to whatever isn’t relevant to our needs. This is just another way of talking about what is called ‘conditioning’. Or as we could also say, when we are playing a game then we are necessarily going to be blind to anything that isn’t part of the game. So we define the world in accordance to the uses which we are putting it to, and then the world becomes – to us – what we have defined it as being. The rest of the world – the part of it that isn’t important to us with respect to our needs – has become completely invisible to us, after all.

It’s probably fair enough to suggest that most members of the Animal Kingdom are too hard pressed by the necessities of playing the biological survival game to have much time left to them to give any attention to ‘inconsequential’ matters, matters that are entirely relevant to the all-important agenda of ‘staying alive’; human beings – however – do have a degree of freedom in this regard, at least potentially. If this were not the case then there would never have been any artists, poets, philosophers or mystics. There are of course a lot of people around that have no time for such matters and consider all of that type of thing to be a foolish waste of time – the old Soviet Union is a good example of this type of thinking – art, in the view that was prevalent in that system, was only of any value if it helped to glorify the values of Soviet-style socialism. Heroic workers had to be depicted doing their part for the state, for the collective, and so on. The only problem here being that such ‘art’, since it all has an agenda, is very superficial and can’t properly be called ‘art’ at all. Ideology yes, propaganda yes, but art no! As Oscar Wilde has noted, the nature of art is to be useless. If it had any use then it would be trivial, if it had a use then it would be all about preserving equilibrium, preserving the status quo. Art that serves the state isn’t art but merely conformity to a predetermined pattern.

We all know that art isn’t a utilitarian type of thing and that if it does no more than reflect current social values or fashions then it isn’t art at all; we might still however be hard put to say what exactly its value might be. To say that art has no purpose or no agenda is enough however – if it had a purpose or gender then it would define the world for us but it doesn’t and so, through art, we get to live in an undefined world. The trouble with the Defined World, as we have said, is that it fosters a very pernicious type of blindness in us. We have become blind to anything else other than our purposes and the deterministic ‘pseudo-world’ that has been called into existence as a result of us looking at things only in this very narrow way (and which is an echo of our purposes). We are trapped within this world that is made up of our unexamined or taken-for-granted ‘agendas’ and these very same agendas being reflected back at us. We are trapped in the Defined World, in other words, and the reason we can say that we are ‘trapped’ is because there is no freedom here. All there is are our purposes (which are not really ‘our’ purposes at all but purposes that have been imposed upon us) and because ‘all there is are our purposes’ we live in a world that contains only two possibilities – either ‘succeeding’ or ‘failing’. And these aren’t actually two possibilities either because both ‘succeeding’ and‘failing’ only ever equal ‘our purposes’(or rather our purposes that aren’t really ‘our’ purposes at all because we can’t question them). Both succeeding and failing equal the rule because it is the rule which we succeed or fail in relation to. Both winning and losing equal ‘the game’ and the game is a trap because when we’re in the game we don’t have the freedom not to play it.

To live in a world that is made up solely of our purposes and the two ‘polar possibilities’ of either succeeding or failing at them is a world with zero freedom in it and saying that we are living in a world that has zero freedom in it is the same thing as saying that we are living permanently under compulsion. We’re told what to do every step of the way in other words, even though we don’t see this to be the case. We don’t see this to be the case because we think that the purposes that have been forcefully imposed upon us are our purposes (because we have identified with them). Struggling to fulfil our purposes doesn’t feel like a trap, therefore. We might of course feel constrained and hemmed in by the necessities of the struggle but because we are orientated towards the possibility of succeeding we feel that ‘freedom from the struggle’ is only just around the corner and this of course has the effect of making our situation bearable for us. What we don’t see however is that ‘success’ in fulfilling our purposes isn’t anything different from ‘our purposes’ but is in fact only our purposes reflected right back at us. We are living in a closed world therefore, but we can’t see this because we are constantly orientated towards an illusory form of freedom.We’ve got an eye on the prize but ‘the prize’ isn’t real!

The Defined World is always a closed world – it is always ‘a world with no freedom in it’. For it to have freedom in it there would to be something in it that is ‘other than it’, something that is ‘not it’, and ‘something that is not it’ means something that is not defined. The Defined World however cannot contain ‘something that is not defined’ in it – if it did then it would no longer be ‘the Defined World’. If the Defined World led on to ‘something else’ then it would be open not closed, and in an Open World definitions don’t mean a thing. We can still have definitions if we want them but they are only ever going to be provisional, they won’t be final and so they won’t really ‘say what anything is’. Our definitions would then be ‘ways of looking at the world that we could drop at any moment’ (or that can be revised at any moment) and so there will be no solidity to them. We won’t be able to rely on them. What we are saying here therefore is that the Defined World can’t be made up of provisional definitions only absolute ones because if it was made up of provisional definitions then it wouldn’t really be defined at all!This is the same thing as saying that the DW can’t have some parts of it that aren’t are defined and some other parts which are – if the thing is to work at all then it all has to be defined, there cannot be any gaps or cracks in the structure. Or if we wanted to express this in terms of games, we can say that a game can’t have any freedom in it – if it did then it wouldn’t be a game. Once we are playing the game then there can’t be any such thing as ‘the freedom not to play’ (or ‘the freedom to see that the game is a game’); in order to play the game we have to veil our own freedom from ourselves, as James Carse says in Finite and Infinite Games.

Human beings, as we have said, have the possibility of not being purposeful or agenda-driven the whole time. This means that we don’t have to spend our entire lives living within the deterministic or mechanical Defined World – we have the chance to avoid that grim fate, we have the chance to live in the Undefined World which is the only real world. The DW claims to be the real world of course – that is exactly its claim. It makes its claim implicitly rather than explicitly by virtue of our conditioned blindness with regard to anything that isn’t relevant to our purposes or agendas. The truth of the matter is that the DW isn’t a world at all – it isn’t a world because it isn’t ‘other’, because it doesn’t actually go anywhere. What the DW actually is is a mere vibration or reverberation, a mere echo of our assumptions. So even though it seems perfectly acceptable and perfectly ‘as it should be’ to be living in the Defined World as the defined identity (or defined self) it’s not actually such a great situation at all, not if the truth be known… It’s not such a great situation because all we are ever doing is mapping out the same tired old possibilities over and over again and – what’s more – the one who is wearily mapping out (or acting) out these tired old possibilities isn’t actually us at all. It isn’t actually us at all because just as the Defined World isn’t the real world, so too the defined identity isn’t a real identity. The Defined World is a projection, and the defined identity is the ‘back projection’ of the projection. Both are echoes of each other, and neither are real.





Playing To Live Or Living To Play

We don’t play in our lives, as James Carse says, but rather we play in order to live, and what that means is that we aren’t actually living. As Carse says, life itself becomes the prize which we are to attain as a result of our successful playing; it is therefore ‘the desire to live’ that fuels our striving, that fuels our ‘serious’ or ‘finite’ play. The ‘desire to live’ is – needless to say – not a healthy thing. This is a hunger that can never be satisfied because it’s a hunger that is coming from the wrong place. “Is not dread of thirst when your well is full, the thirst that is unquenchable?” says Khalil Gibran.

 

There is a flavour that comes with this particular style of living and this is a flavour with which we are all very much familiar. It is the flavour of what rebel economist EF Schumacher calls the ‘Global Megaculture’ which is the dominant way of life on this planet. When people are constantly hungry, self-interested, and relentlessly, aggressively competitive then this is the result of ‘playing to live’, rather than ‘living to play’! When we play in order to live (i.e. when we engage in our life-activities in order to obtain some kind of assumed all-important external ‘benefit’ that doesn’t actually exist) then everything assumes a type of heartless seriousness that is ultimately pathological. The seriousness that we are talking about derives from a need that can never be satisfied and this is ‘the need to be validated as a real person by the meaningless game that we are playing’. We are therefore caught up in a very unpleasant situation here – if we don’t succeed in our play then we don’t get to live – we will see it pass us by, we will see everyone else living when we ourselves are not able to. We can only look on at them – full of frustrated yearning, full of envy and bitterness. And yet even when we do ‘win’ (within the terms of the arbitrary societal game that we are playing) we don’t get to live  – we don’t get to live because we have alienated ourselves from life by identifying with a societal role, we don’t get to live because we have alienated ourselves from life by making a goal of it.

 

If anyone told you that this was a desirable state of affairs to end up with then you would have to question either their integrity or their sanity. A more disastrous setup cannot be imagined! The only possible way to make a go of such a situation is to hang onto the illusion that the ‘prize of life’ will be bestowed upon us at some point as a reward for us competing successfully in the artificial arena of societal life, and make sure that we never let anyone tell us otherwise. If we never succeed (as we are supposed to succeed) then we can keep on believing that the goal is still there to be obtained and this is of course a belief that will perpetually torment us. If on the other hand we do succeed then we will just have to fool ourselves that we are living when we are not. This isn’t too difficult a lie to buy into given that everyone else will believe us to have ‘made it’ even if we ourselves can’t help suspecting deep down that nothing has actually changed. In this case, we have to live through everyone else’s fantasy of what our life is like, which is something that can of course turn nasty at any moment! What goes up can also come down, after all! Living our lives through other peoples’ illusions about us is what sociologist John Berger calls ‘glamour’.

 

Of all the possible ways that there might be of living life this has got to be the most stupidest and most pointless. It is utterly stupid and utterly pointless. There is a benefit to this appallingly stupid scheme all the same – it’s just that the benefit in question isn’t ours! We are not the beneficiaries. The ‘benefit’ – very obviously – belongs to the system that is being perpetuated. The house wins, not the punter! What we looking at here is a game that keeps us hungry whether we win or whether we lose. If we lose then obviously we’re hungry and if we win we’re still hungry – we’re hungry for the reason that we have just given, we are hungry for the ongoing going validation from the crowd that our ‘winning’ actually means something, which doesn’t!

 

We can criticise our current economical/political system on many fronts – we can say that it creates a hideous inequality of wealth, we can say that it creates an avaricious competitive uncaring attitude in people that ensures that – rich or poor – we’ll never know happiness, or we can say that it inevitably results in an exploitative disrespectful orientation towards the resources of the planet that will ultimately spell our ignominious doom at some point or other. All of these are very pertinent criticisms – clearly. But the most essential ‘criticism’ of all is a psychological one. The most essential criticism of all that all of our energy and intelligence is being harnessed for a purpose that has absolutely nothing to do with our own well-being – our life energy is being used for one thing and one thing only – the perpetuation of the system that is exploiting us. We aren’t the ‘exploiters’ at all – we are the exploited.

 

The confidence trick that we have fallen for is as simple as it is devious and it is been the mainstay of human societies for as far back as the records go. That which is freely given to all, across the board, with complete impartiality, has been turned into a prize that has to be won as result of us playing a complicated game, as a result of us ‘following out someone else’s rules’, in other words. Rather than being able to live our lives freely therefore, we are under pressure the whole time – the pressure to succeed, the pressure to make something of ourselves, the pressure to please or placate the machine we are caught up in, the pressure to do well by the uncaring mechanical system that we have haplessly adapted ourselves to.

 

Work is essential in life – inseparable from life, in fact – but the point is not that we should not work (which is – ultimately – impossible anyway) but rather that we should not work in order to live. Working in order to live means that whilst the activities which we engage in will supposedly result in ‘life’, they are not themselves living. All of our activities have become imbued with this quality of ‘end-gaming’ and this is a quality that is anti-life. Very obviously it is ‘anti-life’ – we are always rushing but we are not actually getting anywhere. We are always anxious to ‘skip ahead to the next goal, and the next goal after that’ and each goal symbolises the life that we don’t have, but which we wish so much to have. We ‘live in abstractions’ and the corollary of this is that we have to make do with a type of existence that has no actual ‘being’ in it. We have to live in the Promissory Realm – the realm which is entirely made up of promises which can supposedly be redeemed at some point in the future.

 

We are living on the basis of the promise of being and this is what makes us into ‘slaves of the mechanical system’. The system is promising something that it just doesn’t have to give us in the first place and this means that we’re in for a long wait… If we were in our right minds – so to speak – then we’d see this and we wouldn’t be fooled, but we aren’t in our might right minds and so we don’t see it. We very much aren’t in our right minds. What has happened to us is that we have accepted a type of deal and the nature of this deal – as we started out by saying – is that we will immerse ourselves in the game in order that we might win the glorious prize of life at the end of it. This – as James Carse points out – means that ‘in our playing we are not actually alive’. As we read in Revelation 3:1, ‘Thou hast a name that thou livest, and thou art dead.”

 

What we are talking about is a kind of ‘mechanical prelude’ to life only the supposed ‘prelude’ goes on forever. The ‘prelude’ goes on forever (and the promise of being is forever unfulfilled) because the mechanical can never give rise to the non-mechanical, just as a rule can never give rise to freedom. Because the mechanical realm can never give rise to freedom not only can the mechanical realm never give rise to freedom, it cannot ‘contain’ any freedom either. There can be no freedom in it and what this means is that we have no way of relating to the reality of what freedom means, we only have the word on its own. We actually have no interest in the reality of what freedom actually means (this is something that is completely alien to our socially-adapted constitution, after all) and so all of our attention, all of our interest, is on the signifiers of freedom, the symbols (or surrogates) of freedom that the mechanical realm has provided us with. We are not ‘in our right minds’ and so we can’t see that the system is promising us something that it can’t ever deliver. We’re not in our right minds so we can’t see that the world which we have adapted ourselves to is made up entirely of literal signifiers of a reality which is itself not ‘literal’.

 

We are not in our right minds because the system (or the machine) has ‘given us its mind’, to use Carlos Castaneda’s phrase. The machine ‘runs us as projections of itself’, we could say. The system operates us as photographic negatives of who we really are; we are ‘someone else’s version of ourselves‘, so to speak. It’s as if we have been lured into a dark subterranean realm where the sun never shines and where because the sun never shines we have forgotten that there is such a thing as the sun, we have forgotten that there is such a thing as the light. We have wandered into Plato’s cave and taken our place along with all the other prisoners, spending our whole lives watching shadows as if that were somehow an interesting or valuable thing to do. The shadows (i.e. the literal signifiers) aren’t really interesting; they aren’t actually even the tiniest bit interesting. The shadows – if we may be forgiven for elaborating on Plato’s analogy – exert their terrible life-denying hold on us for one reason and one reason only – because they are making promises that they can never keep, promises that have become a substitute for reality itself…

 

 

 

 

We Can’t Be Trapped In Reality

We can’t be trapped in reality because reality contains no limits; we can however be trapped in our idea of reality, our map of reality. This sounds rather ‘new-age’ or idealistic perhaps, but it is also perfectly true. When we say this that doesn’t mean that there are no biological limits in reality because of course they are – I can’t go and live at the bottom of the sea and I can’t wade through a lake of fire wearing nothing but shorts and a T-shirt, but this isn’t what we’re talking about. We’re talking about the ‘fine structure’ of reality, so to speak, not the grosser structures that exist within it. There are no limits built into the fine structure of ‘reality’ (or ‘space’) – limits are only to be found in the grosser structures, not in the actual ‘essence’ of things.

 

Even to try to explain it like this is going wrong however because ‘structure’ is always built on limitations. That’s what structure is – it’s a system of limits, a system of rules. So instead of saying that ‘the fine structure of reality’ has no limits built into it we should just say that intrinsic space has no limits on it; if it did then it would hardly be worthy of being called ‘space’, after all! If space came with certain inbuilt limitations than obviously there wouldn’t be any ‘space’ in it – there would only be compartments, and compartments can only accommodate what they were designed to accommodate.

 

This gives us a good way of looking at the difference between extrinsic and intrinsic space – intrinsic space is space that hasn’t been designed, hasn’t been created, and which holds no purpose. Extrinsic space, on the other hand, is space that has been designed, has been created, and which does have some sort of ‘inbuilt’ purpose. Extrinsic space is another way of talking about games, in other words. In the general run of things it pretty much goes without saying that we don’t distinguish between ‘intrinsic’ and ‘extrinsic’ space – this isn’t really a type of differentiation that occurs to us. But we if we could see the difference then this would save us from an awful lot of confusion. Because we don’t appreciate that there is this ‘finer’ or ‘subtler’ to reality – which exists beneath the surface of structure, so to speak – we naturally imagine ourselves to have our existence solely on the structural level. We implicitly see ourselves to be structures, in other words. We implicitly see ourselves to be ‘things existing in a world of things’, as Colin Wilson put puts it.

 

When we understand ourselves to have our essential existence on the level of extrinsic space, without understanding what extrinsic space is or that it is there at all, then this is a very different kettle of fish from simply and problematically ‘being’, in an unconditional way, which is the actual un-manipulated situation. This is a whole different ballgame, therefore. What we are doing when we are immersed in extrinsic space is to be pretending to be something without knowing that this is what we’re doing. We are ‘playing a game’ but there’s nothing playful about this game – on the contrary, it is deadly serious. Existence on the level of extrinsic space has an immensely immersive quality to it – it gets to be as immersive as it is because we have now have zero capacity to understand that they could be such a thing as ‘intrinsic space’ (which is also the same thing as freedom). Understanding ourselves purely on a structural level precludes any awareness of intrinsic space, just as it precludes any awareness of what freedom actually means…

 

The only type of freedom we are interested in is extrinsic freedom, which can be defined by saying that it is ‘the freedom to believe that we are the structure’, along with the freedom to operate as the structure, in the way that this structure needs to operate. Extrinsic freedom is the freedom that is built into the game; it translates into ‘the freedom to play the game’ therefore. In order for this surrogate form of freedom to work we have to believe that we truly are the structure which is the self-concept; furthermore, in order for us to continue to believe that we are this structure we have to be able to operate as that structure. Take away our extrinsic freedom, in other words then we would no longer be able to sustain our unreflective belief that ‘this is who we are’. For the conditioned self then, a good supply of extrinsic freedom is absolutely essential; for the conditioned self running out of EF is like running out of oxygen.

 

‘Extrinsic freedom’ might sound like a fancy sort of thing but it isn’t – it’s a very readily understandable concept indeed – it simply means ‘the freedom to obtain our goals’. If we were totally unable to obtain any of our goals, for an indefinite period of time, then – to the conventional way of thinking about things – this is to be regarded as a very dire situation indeed. There is none worse, in fact. We are therefore exhorted ‘not to give up hope’, and ‘keep on trying,’ and so on and so forth. The whole dreadful rigmarole of ‘positive thinking’ comes into play here – positive thinking is all about hanging onto the illusion of our extrinsic freedom for as long as we possibly can. This is just another way of saying that positive thinking is all about staying identified with the conditioned identity (which is our idea of ourselves) for as long as possible. Extrinsic freedom can equally well be seen as ‘the freedom to make meaningful choices’ and our mental health is generally seen as being synonymous with the freedom that we have to make choices. CBT for example, in its traditional form, is all about our so-called ‘freedom’ to make helpful or advantageous choices – we are given to understand that, with regard to our mental state – no matter what the situation we might find ourselves in – we can always make helpful choices. The unspoken implication here is of course that if were to happen that we weren’t able to make any choices then this would be the most undesirable situation imaginable. This would be – the implication is – a very grim scenario indeed. If you were to talk to anyone in the world of mental health care they will almost certainly equate ‘mental well-being’ with ‘the capacity to make choices’; how – we might ask – because anyone possibly argue against this when it sounds so very obviously true?

 

And yet what is ‘obvious’ is not generally true – these two terms don’t actually belong together! The truth, by its very nature, is not going to be obvious – the truth is always unstated, not stated! When we make choices then we are using the thinking mind; we are using the thinking mind because that’s where our ‘choices’ come from. To think is to choose and to choose is to think. ‘The freedom to make choices’ is therefore the same thing as ‘the freedom to think’ but the thinking isn’t actually freedom! When we think we allow our awareness to run down well-worn tracks; when we think we allow our consciousness to be robotized. If I am to have the ‘freedom’ to make rational choices about my situation then what this means is that I must NOT have the freedom to see that my so-called choices don’t involve any free will. How could they when they are completely determined by the mechanical system which is thought? This is what James Carse calls ‘self-veiling‘ – if I am to play a game then I must not know that this is what I am doing; I have to veil from myself the freedom that I have not to play or the game won’t work. ‘The freedom to choose’ is therefore another way of talking about negative freedom; it is ‘the freedom not to be free’, or ‘the freedom to be unfree and yet not know it’.

 

Once we ‘see beyond the obvious’ then it is clear that by equating mental health with ‘the freedom to make meaningful choices’ (choices that are meaningful to us, anyway) we are inverting the natural order of things, so to speak. We are inverting the natural order of things because – in ‘the natural order of things’ – our greatest good must be synonymous with our freedom, whereas the inverted scheme of things asserts that our ‘greatest good’ is synonymous with ‘the integrity of the game that we are playing without knowing that we’re playing it’. We must protect the integrity of the game no matter what because this is the means by which we get to be unfree without knowing that we are. What could be clearer example of inversion than this? What kind of a crazy thing is this to assert – that our happiness and well-being is somehow to be found within the narrow confines of our meaningless games? How do we get away with saying that ‘mental health’ is when we identify so much with the thinking mind that we actually lose touch with reality? To use the thinking mind is one thing, but to identify with it is to identify with a fiction since the thinking mind deals only in abstract conventions. To identify completely with the TM is to lose oneself in a game that we cannot see to be such.

 

Mental health – when we look at it in a ‘non-inverted’ way – can be seen as the freedom not to have to buy in to any of the thinking mind’s so-called ‘choices’. This is a negative definition, not a positive one. Our ‘greatest good’ lies not in any of thought’s constructs, not in the fulfilment of any of its plans, but in the removal of that ‘double restriction’ – [1] the restriction (or imprisonment) within the world that thought has created for us, and [2] The restriction which prevents us from being able to see that this so-called ‘world’ isn’t actually the world at all but an artificial construct. This brings us back to our ‘starting-off’ statement with regard to the impossibility of being trapped in reality:  we can’t be trapped in reality because reality is made up entirely of freedom! It’s overflowing with freedom. We CAN be trapped in the thought-created world, the game however, because the thought-created world is made up of nothing but limits, nothing but rules. The TCW disguises its own stark lack of intrinsic freedom by providing us with a whole heap of extrinsic freedom – as much of it as we want! Extrinsic freedom hoodwinks us into believing that we already are free when we’re not. It does this in a very cunning fashion – it camouflages the lack of intrinsic freedom by saying (or implying) that we will be free if we obey the rules correctly. This is what extrinsic freedom IS – it’s the freedom that supposedly exists ‘outside of ourselves’, it’s the freedom that is obtainable ‘via obeying rules’ – the only drawback here being that this freedom doesn’t actually exist. It’s slavery in disguise.