Far From Equilibrium


An excellent way to study the thinking mind is by seeing it as an equilibrium system – once we understand equilibrium systems then we will understand the rational mind. To start off with we can say that the key thing about an equilibrium system is that every bit of it exists in relation to the base level. Every aspect of it exists in a state of subservience to the ‘boss level’, the level that never changes. Everything is tethered, everything is tied down firmly – there’s nothing loose, nothing that isn’t defined in relation to this base level. A very straightforward illustration of what we’re talking about here is a table with all sorts of bit and pieces sitting on it; the tabletop is the ‘base-level’ because everything comes to rest here, because everything has its position defined in relation to it. The collection of objects sitting on a table is a perfect example of an equilibrium system – everything has settled down to the lowest possible energy level and that ‘lowest possible energy level’ is the surface of the table.


This may not seem at first like a particularly inspiring image to use in relation to a discussion of how the mind works (being as it is rather unexciting, rather lacking in glamour) but the rational mind isn’t really as interesting or as glamorous as we ‘think’ it is. The rational mind is an equilibrium system and equilibrium systems aren’t exactly known for being exciting! Just as the table we talked about is an E-system, so is the everyday thinking mind. Everything we know – all of our thoughts and concepts and models – are tethered firmly to a base-level and that base-level is the framework that the mind uses to understanding everything by. Or we could also say that the base-level is the set of categories (the set of evaluative criteria) that the mind uses to classify, and thus to describe, the world. Everything comes to rest on the floor of our evaluative criteria – when we ‘know’ something then that is simply because we have slotted it into a category! It is (of course) as mechanical a business as this…


When we know something that whatever it is that we got to know as stopped existing at some unspecified location in the air, and has come rest on the basement level, on the cluttered tabletop of the everyday mind. Whatever datum it is has now come to the end of its journey; there’s nowhere else for it to go – it’s sitting right at the bottom of an ‘energy well’ and that is that. That’s the end of the matter. There is therefore something very ‘dead’ about an equilibrium system – it’s not going anywhere, it’s not ever going anywhere. The whole point is that it doesn’t go anywhere! From the POV of the E-system the datum has arrived at its proper destination and that is very satisfactory to it; from outside of the context of the E-system however we can see that the datum hasn’t really arrived anywhere.  It’s only somewhere because we have said that it is – it’s purely arbitrary when we say that it has ‘got somewhere’, when we say that it has reached its allotted destination.


We might object here that even if the datum in question has come to rest at an arbitrary destination, it is still surely ‘somewhere’. Why do we say that it isn’t anywhere? But the point here is that the terminus station which the bus has pulled into stops being an actual place just as soon as we say that it is a terminus station, since there aren’t actually any ‘termini’ in reality! As soon as we see ‘where we are’ as being the end of the journey this makes where we are (or rather where we understand ourselves to be) everything gets abruptly (if imperceptibly) transposed into a realm of unreality. If reality is a continuous becoming, then anything that isn’t part of that becoming isn’t actually real! If there is something that isn’t becoming then that supposed ‘thing’ has been transposed into a realm of abstraction; it’s now unreal – it’s been turned into a formal statement and formal statements are only real in relation to the framework of reference that we have taken for granted. It is ‘relatively real’ therefore – it’s real only in relation to something which itself isn’t real!


Because every part of the E-system is constructed in relation to the baseline (which is thing we assume to be real which isn’t) we can say that everything in that E-system is the baseline. If everything is defined via the baseline then everything is the baseline. This is like saying that everything which happens in the game is the game. From the perspective of the game, all the nominally different states or possibilities that exist within it (all its categories) are indeed different, but from the outside of the game we can see that all these supposedly different states or possibilities are simply ‘the game’. The same is therefore true for the E-system which is thought – no matter what we think it’s still only thought. No matter how new or exciting a thought might seem, it’s still only that same old E-system! This is of course a very peculiar thing to reflect upon – the whole point of thinking is that the different things we think really are different (just as the whole point of a game is that the different outcomes we obtain within it really are different). If all of our thoughts are actually just the same old equilibrium system ‘in disguise’ then this makes a farce of the whole enterprise of thought.


Another way to come at the idea of the irredeemable ‘deadness’ of the equilibrium system (which is an idea which is intuitively of not rationally obvious) is to look at it in terms of information content. It is very easy to show that all thoughts must have zero information content – all of the products of the system of thought have to have zero information content since they are all produced via the mechanism of self-referentiality. After all, any thought or concept only makes the sense that it does make to us because it corresponds to one or more of our pre-existent mental categories. If we didn’t have the category for it then we couldn’t have the thought! This is as obvious as saying that we couldn’t have a picture on a TV screen if we didn’t have the pixels there to represent it – the pixels are what make up the picture so of course we can’t have a picture without any pixels. When we see a picture on TV we are seeing the pixels without noticing that we are seeing the pixels and in the same way when we become aware of a thought then we are seeing our own mental categories without realizing that we are seeing our own mental categories. What we are being aware of is our own ‘instrumentation’ but we don’t of course focus on this fact. In essence, therefore, we are only seeing what we ourselves put there (we only perceive as being real what we ourselves agree to be real) and this is why our thoughts have zero information content.


This is not to say that the thinking mind is ridiculously defunct however! The physical universe itself consists (to a considerable degree) of equilibrium systems so we need the thinking mind to act as mediator or guide. Inasmuch as the equilibrium system of the rational mind corresponds accurately to the equilibrium systems that exist in the physical universe then it is pretty much indispensable to us! All sorts of E-systems exist in the natural world (the atomic structure is itself an E-system) and this is where the machine of the rational mind comes into its own. Classical Newtonian mechanics is a perfect example of this – movement (or change) in the world around us is both explained and predicted by the logical mind (just so long as that movement/change isn’t chaotic, that is). If the universe were nothing other part from an equilibrium system (as most of the early physicists imagines it was) then the thinking mind would indeed be ‘the measure of all things’. But as we now know E-systems are only the most obvious (and least interesting) part of the story. The universe isn’t an equilibrium system at all – it’s a non-equilibrium system!


The deeper non-equilibrium aspect of the universe is where it’s all at, really. This is the hub that we don’t tend to see – this is where all qualitative change comes from. This is where all the interesting stuff happens, all the unpredictable stuff, the stuff that doesn’t get accounted for by our linear equations. We could actually go so far as to say that the ‘predictable’ stuff that happens doesn’t actually happen at all. Events that have been predicted aren’t really events. If something happens the way we always knew it was going to then how can we say that ‘something has happened’? Only if something hasn’t been prefigured can we say that it has truly happened – only then does it constitute actual ‘information’. This is why we can say that E-systems aren’t interesting – because nothing new ever happens in them! If something did happen in an E-system then it wouldn’t be an E-system at all, it would be a Non-E system…


We could say that the mechanical (or rule-based) aspects of the natural world are embedded in the Non-E world, or that they exist as defined ‘subsets’ of the Non-E world. As James Carse says, finite games can exist within the Infinite Game, but this can’t happen the other way around. The regular can never give rise to the random; the generic can never give rise to the unique. From a psychological perspective this principle is extraordinarily significant. If we can only see with the eyes of the machine which is the rational-conceptual mind, then we will never see beyond what this machine is capable of showing us. The machine’s limitations will then be our limitations. We will never ever see beyond the Equilibrium World that the rational-conceptual  mind shows us – as far as we will be concerned therefore the universe we live in will be a Non-E universe, a closed universe, a universe without the possibility of anything radically new ever happening in it. We will be E-creatures inhabiting an E-world, finite game-players existing within a finite game. Our reality will be circumscribed; our reality will be defined by the crude cogs of the thinking machine. Our reality will have limits, and so it won’t be reality at all!


But if we can remember how to see with ‘the eyes of the spirit’ rather than with the eyes of the rational-conceptual mind then we will see beyond the limits that have been set for us. We will see beyond the digitalized ‘self-image’; we will see beyond the digital hologram which is the material universe. When we start seeing with our own eyes rather than with the mechanical eyes that have been given to us by the rational mind (and by society, which is an offshoot of this mind) then we will see that we live in a universe that doesn’t exist within an sort of framework at all, a universe which doesn’t come in categories, a universe which doesn’t have to be compared to an imaginary template in order for it to make sense. We will see a very strange thing – we will see that we live in a universe which exists far from equilibrium…







  1. Saša · March 21, 2016

    Hello, 🙂
    There is a rather strange consequence to thinking that nothing ever happens in a framework, since everything happening needs some sort of framework wherein it can manifest. Somehow, the only framework allowing “happening” i.e. something new to appear, is nothingness – where nothing whatsoever exists or could ever happen!