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When Precedence Is King

The generic is that for which there is precedence – no more needs to be said on the subject than this! What follows on from ‘that which was already there’ is the generic, and the generic is all most of us will ever know. Or as P.D. Ouspensky puts it,


We are fed on substitutes, on “margarine” in all aspects and forms. Very few of us know the taste of genuine things.



The generic is ‘that for which there is a precedence, but when we really look into it we see that there’s actually no such thing as precedence. There is such a thing in terms of our conventional way of thinking, it’s true, but outside of the convention that we have agreed on (outside of our ideas, outside of our assumed framework) precedence doesn’t exist. We know this – if not from our own immediate insight – from what has been learned in the discipline of physics. No physicist will claim that there is some sort of ‘entity’ that moves continuously forward in time in the way that we always imagine that things do. That is a mere ‘convention of thinking’, as we have just said – there is nothing that moves. There is nothing there to move…



Nothing exists via extension in linear time – that just doesn’t ever happen, despite the fact that this business of ‘extension in time; is universally understood to be the basic condition of existence. If it’s over the moment it occurs then we won’t credit it we ‘ve got it backwards however – this type of ‘fleeting’ existence is the only type of existence there is, whilst permanence is merely a projection on our part. Extension in time isn’t a real thing, it’s just a species of hallucination; it might be a species of hallucination that we’re all subject to, but it’s an hallucination all the same. There are no ‘entities’, no ‘objects’, no ‘particles’ and so consequently there’s nothing there to extend forward in time in the way that we always imagine. If it’s not there in the first place then it can’t move forward. There’s no getting around this basic point!



“But physics says that there are particles!” we might object, familiar as we are with all this talk of protons and electrons, positrons, neutrinos, mu mesons and so on. There are no actual particles however – that’s a misunderstanding. No physicist would ever make such a claim; saying that ‘there is such a thing as a particle’ is just a convention – we’re choosing to look at what’s going on as if there were such things as particles, but that’s our way of envisaging what’s going on rather than being something that’s inherent in the nature of reality itself. This is a basic principle – all we ever see is our own taken-for-granted viewpoint reflected back at us. We don’t orientate ourselves towards the world as it is, but to our understanding of it.



An electron – for example – isn’t like some kind of microscopic type of ball-bearing; it isn’t a tiny little thing or object because in this whole wide universe there’s no such thing as ‘things’, no such thing as ‘discrete objects’. We can make the focus of our perception (or cognition) into an object if we want to; we can ‘objectify’ it by deliberately not paying attention to all the interactions that are going on between it and the rest of the universe. This makes it into an object for us, but that’s not the same thing as saying that it is an object ‘in itself’. What it is in itself we can never know because in order to know something that something has to have duration in time, and it doesn’t. This is why our knowledge about ‘objects’ or ‘things’ is always hallucinatory; this is why any system of positive knowledge that we might devise is always going to be ‘a castle built on clouds’.



What we’re talking about here is entropy – entropy equals ‘information that we have no information about,’ we might say. Entropy is a ‘subjective disconnection,’ a disconnection which is pragmatically real for us. We can’t see what’s really going on because that information is lost to us; instead, we have a ‘crudely misleading picture of what’s going on’, a picture that is – unbeknownst to us – missing something very important. ‘Entropy is the price of structure,’ says Ilya Prigogine, and that’s just another way of saying that there appears to be a lack of connection between certain elements when the truth is that we just can’t see that connection because it’s too subtle for our regular type of perception to pick up on. ‘The electron itself can never be separated from the whole of space, which is its ground,’ observes David Bohm. Or, as Fritjof Capra, puts it –


As we penetrate into matter, nature does not show us any isolating building blocks, but rather appears as a complicated web of relations between all the various parts of the whole.



If nothing can be meaningfully considered ‘in isolation from the Whole’ then perhaps – we might argue, reluctant as we are to give up the idea of linear time – it’s the Whole that moves forward in time, all in one lump, not the illusory parts of the Whole. But that doesn’t work either – this idea is equally absurd, equally nonsensical. The idea that it is the Whole which is extending itself in time is absurd because in the universe where ‘change is all there is’ there clearly can’t be anything that persists in time (i.e., there can’t be anything that doesn’t change). Persistence simply doesn’t exist. Persistence in time is an idea that we all automatically subscribe to, but at the same time it just so happens to be an idea that has no relation whatsoever to the real world, the world that isn’t an idea, the world which is – as Heraclitus says – ‘Cosmic Flux’ (which is to say, a process of endless becoming).



This all comes down to a question of ‘linearity versus nonlinearity’ (or ‘continuity versus discontinuity’); we are obliged to think about things in a linear way even though nature herself doesn’t actually work like that – hence, Gregory Bateson’s comment that ‘all the major problems in the world are the result of differences between the way nature works and the way people think’. Linearity means that everything proceeds via cause and effect, in a nice orderly (and therefore understandable) fashion, without there ever being any anomalies, without there ever being unexplained exceptions to this rule. This is the rational / logical viewpoint therefore, the view that says ‘stuff can only happen if it happens according to the dictates of the established mechanical laws’. There is never any mention of ‘change that occurs by itself’ in the national rational worldview and this is strange since – ultimately – the only type of change there is is spontaneous change, or ‘change that happens by itself all by itself’. Spontaneous change is the ‘elephant in the room’ when it’s the thinking mind we’re talking about; everything that exists is spontaneous but we contrive to ignore this astonishing fact. The other type of change – cause and effect type change – is merely the hollow or superficial appearance of change. Cause and effect can’t qualify as genuine change because the effect is already contained in the cause; if it wasn’t then it wouldn’t be logical, it wouldn’t constitute a ‘continuity’. The change that is to happen can’t be contained within the prior state; if it is then what we’re looking at is copying (or duplication) not change, which by virtue of the fact that it is change, has to involve something new; it can’t just be a rehash of the old, which is what a logical continuum is.



‘Precedence’ is a great thing when it comes to having some kind of excuse or validation for what we’re doing; it lends respectability to whatever activity it is that we’re engaged in. What’s more respectable than logic, after all? It’s a law and what could be more respectable than obeying the law? This is, as we all we know, the ‘traditional response’; ‘I’m only following the rules, guvnor,’ we say, with an eloquent shrug of our shoulders. The responsibility is shifted to the rules and so no one can say a word against us. This is the very curious thing about linearity therefore – once we’re ‘in it’ then everything is very tightly justified indeed. It couldn’t be justified more tightly. If I am acting lawfully within the remit of the linear system then I am 100% justified, absolutely justified, and yet the whole thing – the logical of continuum itself – has no justification whatsoever! Or as we could also say, once we’re in the system of thought then all of our thoughts are legitimate; all of our thoughts are meaningful and can be proved to be so in the terms that we have unreflectively assumed, and yet the System of Thought has no legitimacy outside of itself. The SOT is self-validating, self-promoting, self-creating…



Games are meaningless when we look at them from outside (because that’s the nature of games) but once we have ‘jumped on board with the game’ then every move we make has a very precise and non-negotiable meaning; if we want to go back to talking in terms of precedence, we can say that once the initial precedence has been set then ‘precedence is king’, but that doesn’t solve the problem of how we can justify that very first step in the sequence. It’s an infinite regress, in other words – we can’t justify that very first step. This is the Starting Paradox that Alan Watts refers to and there is absolutely no way of bypassing it. If the SOT has its origin in paradox (as it does) then there’s no way it can ever go beyond that paradox, even though the system itself cannot ever acknowledge this fact. The SOT is functionally incapable of ‘acknowledging the paradox’. The World that Thought Creates (which is the world that is built on precedence) is therefore ‘a paradox that we cannot see as such’, a paradox that we absolutely don’t want to see as such…





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