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Positive Confusion

Making positive statements about the world is an infallible recipe for generating confusion, and yet ‘making positive statements’ is pretty much all we know how to do – that’s our ‘stock in trade’. The suggestion that this way of going about things is never going to get us anywhere (the suggestion that ‘there are no true positive statements’) is simply baffling to us. We don’t seem to have the capacity to take this on board – it means nothing to us when we hear this.



The idea that we can describe reality (or ‘the world’) in positive terms is however frankly ridiculous. If we try to do so then this simply shows how very little attention we ever have put into anything. The belief that one can describe reality via positive statements of theories is the classic hallmark of unconsciousness. If we had to try to say something about the nature of reality that wasn’t completely ridiculous our best shot at this would be to say something to the effect that reality is something that has an infinite capacity to facilitate whatever thoughts or theories that we might have about it. If we say something like this, then we are getting somewhere – we’re starting to get un-confused, which is a radically new experience!



What we’re saying here is that reality operates by mirroring our thoughts about it, our assumptions or beliefs about it. So when we see this we can also see why making positive statements about the world isn’t exactly going to clarify matters! Making positive statements is actually the height of philosophical naivety – it’s the perfect way of confusing ourselves whilst looking for clarification. We’re not so much ‘shedding light’ on the topic we’re investigating as placing ourselves in the darkest of shadows. Or we could perhaps say that we shedding ‘false light’ and are allowing ourselves to be guided by the ignis fatuus, the ‘light of foolishness’ which leads us perpetually astray and mires us in endless illusion. In his Alchemical Studies (Volume 13 in the Collected Works) Jung makes the point that Hermes the light-bringer is a two-faced god, who can either appear as the light of nature (the philosophers’ lumen naturae) when we are mindful and vigilant, or the entrapping light of deception (the ignis fatuus or jack-o-lantern) if we are sloppy and careless…



Every thought we ever could think does this – every thought we ever could think ‘mires us in illusion’. Every thought we might ever think is unfailingly ‘adding to our confusion’, despite the impression of clarity we might be receiving. This is because every definite thought that we think (and what other types of thought are there?) assumes a context – it has to assume a context in order to be there – and just as soon as we assume this context it becomes the whole world to us. So we’re not just ‘assuming a context’ in order to be able to think rational thoughts, we’re assuming a world. Only it’s not a real world, and that’s the down-side…



When we talk about ‘assuming a context’ or ‘assuming a world’ it has to be emphasized that this is a profoundly unconscious process. Assuming always is! Not only do we not know what it is that we are assuming, we don’t even know that we are assuming anything in the first place. We don’t know anything. Or rather, we feel that we ‘know something’ but because the thing we feel that we know is only there because we have assumed a context without knowing that we have the so-called ‘thing’ isn’t really a thing at all, and if it isn’t really a thing at all then how can we be said to ‘know’ something about it?



This ‘context’ that we are talking so much about is really just a ‘cut-off point’ for our interest, a ‘point-beyond-which-we-do-not-look’. We don’t of course acknowledge that there is this point beyond which we will not look. That would be like acknowledging that we are prejudiced – as soon as we admit that we are prejudiced then we’re not. Prejudices only work when we don’t see them as such, so in the same way when we see that there is a cut-off point to our interest, a point beyond which we do not look, then we have already looked beyond it. We have to ‘look beyond it’ in order to see it! Or as we could also say, if we’re interested enough in ourselves to see that we’re not interested, then we’re interested after all…



When we have this cut-off point that we don’t look beyond (and at the same time don’t realize that we do) this situation allows us to entertain positive statements about the world. We can actually have ‘positive statements’ in this case, and these statements will seem eminently plausible, eminently believable to us. When we have this unacknowledged ‘limitation to reality’ in place then positive objects become a real thing to us, so to speak, even though they never actually are, and with these positive objects comes the viable possibility of entertaining definite (and therefore ) statements or views about the world. Without any positive objects (i.e. objects that can be exhaustively defined) there can be no such possibility – to what would they refer, after all? We rely on the fiction of positive objects to make sense of the world.



This brings us to the nub of the matter. Reality – when we don’t bring any taken-for-granted limit into the picture – provides us with nothing that we can make any definite statements about. It gives us nothing to go on. Openness supplies us with nothing that we can make any ‘definite statements’ about. Once we say this it becomes so obviously and self-evidently true that we would wonder why it would be necessary to actually say it at all – to be ‘definite’ about something is to be closed in our view of it (i.e. not open to any new and unexpected interpretations) and so of course openness is not going to give us anything that we can make closed statements about. It doesn’t give us any purchase, any angle to work with…



Naturally we can’t say anything about the open universe – as soon as we pick something to say it will provide us with new perspectives on the matter that will immediately relativize (i.e. invalidate) whatever it is that we have just said. There is a satisfaction to be had in ‘saying what something is’ but this is a type of satisfaction we can never have in the open universe. But what we can do on the other hand – as we started off this discussion by saying – is to arbitrarily ‘close down’ reality without admitting to anyone that we are doing so and then we can indeed get to be ‘right’ (in inverted commas) with regard to the positive description of reality that we have just made without any awareness that we have in fact arranged for this gratifying possibility of ‘being right’ in advance, so to speak. We have ‘fiddled the books’ without letting on to ourselves that we have, and so we can now have the satisfaction of saying definite things about reality and being (apparently) validated in doing so.



We can therefore say anything we want about the open universe just as long as we don’t mind being sloppy about it (and we don’t). We don’t mind at all, as it happens! The open universe will quite happily facilitate us in our sloppiness – it will give us as much rope as we could ever possibly want! Talking in terms of being ‘given enough rope’ is of course rather apt because this sort of thing never results in a happy outcome. The confusion that is created by our positive statements very quickly (if not instantaneously) develops – via a type of positive feedback loop) into a mess or tangle that goes way beyond our usual understanding of the word! A version (or understanding) of ourselves is immediately created that actually wants to be confused, needs to be confused. Confusion becomes our life-blood, so to speak. Confusion becomes our friend and clarity (or truth) becomes our sworn enemy…



The positive feedback loop that we’re talking about here can be explained very simply –



Relating uncritically (or naively) to the positively-defined world that we have created automatically creates the compelling perception of the positive (or ‘concrete’) self that is doing the relating and this positive or concrete self – in turn – needs the positive world to be there in order that it might carry on existing.



The positive self needs a positive (i.e. exhaustively defined) world for it to live in because that’s the only way it can construct itself – by reference to this exhaustively defined world. At the end of the day it doesn’t mind what sort of a positive reality it has just so long as  it can have one (or some description) and this explains why rather than move towards liberating awareness and the relativization that this brings to our constructs we would rather create progressively more miserable realities for ourselves to live in. There is a method to our madness, a logic to our apparently nonsensical (and self-harming) perversity.



So here we have this marvellous open universe that will quite happily and quite unreservedly give us all the rope we need and so it ought to come as no surprise to observe that the very pronounced tendency (almost a law) is that we should rush ahead and hang ourselves as quickly as possible with it. Creating positive worlds that validate our unconsciousness prejudices feels like a good thing to do (it brings satisfaction, or euphoria) and so we almost always rush ahead to do just this. If we were ever to sober up a bit from the euphoria and actually reflect on what we are doing it would not seem like such a good idea however. It would actually seem like the stupidest idea ever!




  • Rashid Dossett

    Restrictions for the purpose of advancing physical safety are relevant at all times. Psychologically, however, worldly people often hold unto unexamined restrictions. These unexamined restrictions remain unexamined because worldly people hold unto the self-validation that holding unto these expectations give them.

    There is no real happiness nor any type of joy possible while being in this mind state of relief seeking. Yet, this relief seeking (or the solidification of the will) is the only concern for worldly people! With real joy and true happiness out of reach, the only thing relief seekers are left with is fleeting socially validated entertainment, how cheap and debased the entertainment might be!

    But then, worldly people wonder why their world is filled with so much violence and frozen conflicts…

    March 24, 2018 at 11:42 am Reply
    • Nick Williams

      We might wonder why people seem as keen as they are to hold onto very fixed views or prejudices, no matter how absurd or how toxic these views or prejudices might be (and they are) and the answer is clearly is that it is only through our strong prejudices that we can manage to have a strong sense of self. The damage we cause to others and the world around us is therefore ‘acceptable collateral’. If we let go of all our preposterous (and often obnoxious) ‘false views’ about the world we would also be letting go of ourselves!

      March 25, 2018 at 12:03 pm Reply

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