What The Thinking Mind Does If We’re Not Careful
The thinking mind has a trick that it plays on us and the very curious funny thing about this trick is that no matter how many people you ask about it, you will never find anyone who knows anything about it. No one seems to know that there is a ‘trick’ and no one knows what it is. This wouldn’t be in the least bit surprising to us however if it just so happened that we knew what the trick was…
What the mind does to us, if we let it, is that it paints us into a corner. It’s ‘too clever for its own good’, rather like a parasite that is too greedy and kills its host outright. The rational mind doesn’t actually kill us of course – not in the biological sense, at any rate – but it does something that is perhaps even worse – it brings about an inner death. The way it does this is by ‘explaining everything away’, rather like an annoying friend who has to find a banal rational reason for all the unexplained phenomena in the world. Sometimes it is helpful to point out that there is a simple logical reason for something but if we do this at every opportunity then this is clearly not a helpful process. What is explained is dead – devoid of interest from this point on. Life becomes barren from this point on and all that remains to us is to skip in an irritated way from one thing to another, in an unconscious effort to distract ourselves from this barrenness. We might still feel clever in that we will still believe ourselves to ‘know everything’, but there is no joy in this, none whatsoever. It’s a hollow victory. When we finally do explain everything away then we have no more challenges, nothing more to live for. The question is however, why on earth would we condemn ourselves to a fate like this?
The most obvious answer to this apparently unanswerable question is to deny its validity and say that it is possible to live a joyful and fulfilling life on the basis of pure, undiluted rationality and this claim is not uncommon. As a rational culture, this belief underpins our way of life; all of our enthusiasm, all of our optimism, all of ‘positivity’, is implicitly based on this claim – the claim that the rational life is a good life! The rational life is not a good life though, as ought to be apparent. When we look around us we don’t see people ‘living the good life’, we see people chasing distractions and desperately trying to convince themselves (and anyone else who might be interested) that they are leading the good life. We’re putting on a show in other words – everything is on the outside and nothing is on the inside, everything is a theatre and nothing is true. There is actually no way around this when we’re living on the basis of rationality because rationality contains nothing. The rational construct of life is exactly that, a construct. The rational description of the world is precisely that, a description. The world itself (irrational as it is) has been lost entirely.
The point is that when we ‘explain’ something then this can never be more than a description – it can never be ‘the thing itself’! Our unspoken assumption, bizarre as it might seem sound, is that when a description is good enough, thorough enough, then it will come out not just close to whatever it is that is being described, but it will become the very same thing as it. This is a kind of ‘magic’ therefore, although no rational thinker worthy of the name would admit to something like that! We could try and wriggle out of the charge of ‘magical thinking’ by arguing that it is in fact perfectly feasible that the reality we are attempting to describe can be exhaustively described and that what we describe it as being actually is what it is, with no important details having been left out. If we accept that this may be the case however then we’re still ending up in the situation where ‘the description’ equals ‘the thing being described’ and this is just plain ridiculous. Descriptions (like thoughts) are unnecessarily abstractions – how then can an abstraction ever equal reality? We are determined to prove that our ways of thinking about the world really do approximate the world and the source of our determination is undoubtedly our very great insecurity – why else would we need to explain the world away’?
A very straightforward way to show why a description can never equal the thing is to look at the world in terms of the Holographic Principle, which states that any one little portion of the world also contains a portion of everything else. It’s ‘all the one’, in other words. This might sound like ‘magic’ too since the suggestion that ‘everything contains everything’ sounds profoundly illogical. It is profoundly logical course but that’s not really a significant problem since reality itself is illogical. Reality may be said to hang together’ by the exercise of ‘the Principle of All-Inclusivity’, which essentially means that ‘everything is accepted and nothing is refused’. There are no boundaries, in other words. There is no rule saying that can’t be any such thing as boundaries (this possibility is not rejected) but if there are to be boundaries then we have to put them in place ourselves; we are ‘free to give away our freedom’, in other words. Saying that there are no boundaries is another way of saying that ‘nothing is excluded’ (or that ‘everything is included’) and this just happens to be the only thing we can meaningfully say about reality. Saying this isn’t being ‘arrogant in our attitude to reality’ (which is surely a sin) but rather we are admitting our ignorance, and our inability to ever do anything about this ignorance. We can only get to ‘know’ stuff by putting our home-made boundaries in place, so to admit that reality is not made of boundaries is the very same thing as admitting that we can never ‘know’ it.
The short way of saying all of the above is to make the observation that we can’t ‘know’ anything, which comes across – naturally enough – as a bit of an odd statement. We might go so far as to say that it comes across as a nonsensical statement since our heads are full of ‘knowing! We all know lots and lots of stuff and what’s more, we know that we know it. Why would we go to school or college if not to come out at the other end knowing things? Why would I go to the trouble of putting myself through university for six or seven years to obtain a PhD in something if at the end of it all I still know exactly as much as I did on the very first day of my studies (which is precisely ‘nothing’)? Why would I bother giving directions to someone who is lost if they are still going to know nothing even after I give them the directions? The point is of course that we can be familiar with (or ‘know’) the system of descriptions that we have put together and we can be awarded certificates to prove that we do know it (or at least part of it) but because this system of descriptions (which is thought itself) has no relationship with the essence of reality (and never can do) any knowledge of the system of thought that we might have is meaningful only with respect to that same system. Positive knowledge is redundant, in other words.
If it is true that we live in a Holographic Universe then we can never know any more about any part of it than we can about the whole of it (since every part is the Whole); every (apparently humble) speck of dust contains an infinite amount of information therefore, which is reminiscent of William Blake’s lines in Auguries of Innocence:
To see a World in a Grain of Sand /And heaven in a wild Flower / Hold infinity in the palm of your hand / And Eternity in an hour.
We are all compelled to be poets, in other words, by the very nature of the universe that we live in. We’re not really compelled however – we might of course prefer not to be poets since the poetical world is not a straightforward one and there are no ‘uses’ to which we might put it! In this case all we have to do is make very sure that we say strictly within the humourless bounds of the ‘Domain of the Known’, which has no poetry in it. It has no reality in it either but we don’t have to worry about that. What the DOK lacks in reality it makes up in bombast. If we want a humourless and essentially ‘non-poetical’ world then we can have one. No one is going to stop us. Those of us who have, wittingly or unwittingly, opted for existence within bounds of the DOK aren’t happy on our own however – it irks us mightily to see people going around the place who haven’t restricted themselves in the way that we have and we will do everything we can, using fair means or foul, to recruit them to the cause. We want company in our misery, after all.
What the mind does therefore, if we let it, is that it round us all up on fences in talk around that is the DOK, eke out our days as best we can under its law, under its grim rules. This is the Dark Father archetype – masculine authority turned prison warder. This is ‘the need to control simply for the sake of controlling’, or ‘the need to be the one who says what things are just for the sake of being the one who says what things are’. It is useful to know things – like the password to get into your Spotify account or your Social Security number when you have to apply for unemployment or sickness benefit, but this is ‘knowing that serves us’. When we carelessly let thought play its trick on us we think we know everything (when we are engaged in the joyless activity of ‘explaining reality away’) then the tables have been turned and ‘we serve our knowing’. ‘Knowing’ then reveals itself to be a cruel and humourless tyrant; the rich and fertile earth of ‘the Real’ has all been swept away and no matter where you there is nothing but concrete. ‘The garden’ is gone and instead we have ‘the machine’, to use James Carse’s metaphor. Nothing grows in the Domain of the Known – to grow is after all to change, to move beyond what one has been designated as being, and that’s not allowed in the DOK. The whole point of the DOK is that change or growth isn’t allowed…