Positive and negative certainty (which is to say, concrete facts that we like and which made us feel good, and concrete facts that we don’t like and which make us feel bad) are created by the evaluating mind, rather than having any existence of their own, and yet positive and negative certainty are all we ever take any notice of! Nothing else really registers with us…
The key to understanding this lies in the term ‘the evaluative mind’ – the process of evaluation involves (we could say) two steps, one being the act whereby we impose our own framework of meaning on the world, the other being the step in which we reference everything we come across to the framework of meaning. Alternatively, we could say that the process of evaluation involves comparing incoming information to our assumed categories such that when there is a match (or a ‘fit’) it’s a YES and when there isn’t a match then it’s a NO. The YES and the NO are our evaluation, obviously, and no matter how sophisticated the process gets it always comes down to this basic ‘act of comparison’ of information to our assumed framework of meaning.
There is huge security in YES and NO; there is immense security. What does this thing we’re calling ‘security’ mean, however? We use the word very easily, and we all think we know what we’re talking about, but what exactly is it? Obviously, security is some we are magnetically drawn to, something we unfailingly gravitate to, and feel safe with, but why? What’s going on here? One answer is to say (the sense of) security is what we get when we live in a purely conceptual reality! A purely conceptual reality is – clearly – a reality in which everything has already been decided; it is a reality in which everything has already been allocated its right and proper place (according to the all-important framework) and where – on this account – nothing will ever radically surprise us. How can our concepts ever ‘surprise’ us after all? Didn’t we make them ourselves? The purely conceptual reality is therefore a reality in which ‘the radically new’ has been forever excluded and it is precisely this ‘impossibility of us ever encountering the radically new’ that constitutes security for us. That’s what makes us feel safe!
So this gives us one way of explaining what is meant by the term ‘security’ (or ontological security as it is sometimes called) and the other, complementary way of approaching this is to say that living in a fully mapped-out terrain represents security for us because it allows or facilitates the existence of the everyday self. Naturally the concept of ‘security’ boils down to the self – what else would it come down to? It’s only ever the insecure everyday self that keeps going on and on about ‘security’, and those things that stand for security; it’s only ever the insecure everyday self that finds ‘security’ so damn important. The reason for this (which we could see as clearly as day if we sat down and reflected on it) is that the everyday self doesn’t actually exist. It’s merely a construct, an arbitrary ‘made-up’ kind of a thing. It’s something we choose to believe in just for the sake of having something solid to believe in! We choose to believe in it and then we conveniently choose to forget that we made this choice. That’s the whole game in a nutshell.
The only reason we find validation important is because we don’t actually have any. We don’t have any ‘validity’ and so we have to keep on arranging it for ourselves; we have to keep on arranging it for ourselves because we know dam well (no matter what we say to the contrary) that we wouldn’t have any otherwise. The great thing about the purely conceptual reality is therefore is that the everyday self feels right at home in it – the everyday self feels right at home in the conceptual world because it too is a concept, like everything else in this world. It fits in perfectly – like a key in a lock or like a little cog in a big, smoothly running machine. It never stands out, it never ‘looks weird’, it never fails to engage properly with all the other concepts, all the other ‘machine-parts’. There are no discrepancies anywhere, no odd dissonances, no mismatches, no funny feelings, no unpleasant feelings of ‘not belonging’. The self fits into the purely conceptual world as well as it does because it is a concept in a world that is made up of them, a world where everything has to agree with the all-important ‘assumed framework’….
What a situation this puts us in though. We are obliged to maintain the integrity of the conceptual world without ever owning up to the fact that this is what we are doing, which puts a very odd strain on things. What’s more, we are obliged to keep reality itself at bay and make do instead with our cheap plastic substitute. Just to consider this, even for a moment or two, is enough to send a chill up our spines. Who on earth could be OK about this? What a fantastically bizarre (not to mention freakishly unpleasant) business this is and who – in all honesty – could claim that this is not our situation? No matter how dumb we might pretend to be, underneath it we’re not dumb at all – we know more than we let on to ourselves to know. We’re all doing this very strange thing therefore – we’re all keeping up this collective pretence (or pretence for the sake of the collective) that there isn’t a deeper truth than ‘the truth of our concepts’ when actually everyone knows deep down that there is. We have this ‘allegiance’ to the act going on, even though the act (or the pretence) is never actually going to do anything for us other than produce suffering.
The ‘deeper truth’ is that certainty doesn’t exist at all in this world; certainty only exists in the game, or – as we might also say – certainty only exists when we are too afraid to look deeply into things. When we’re too afraid to look deeply into things (which is the usual state of affairs) then the purely conceptual world suits us down to the ground. The PCW suits us down to the ground because there’s nothing beyond it, because ‘what it says on the label is all there is’. It’s true that there can be frightening things in the conceptual world, but no matter how frightening they might be they’re not frightening in the sense that they cause us to question the reality of the conceptual self! The contrary is true – all those fears and worries that are related to the conceptual world confirm the existence of the conceptual self. In terms of ‘the game’, we can equivalently say that being afraid of losing at the game – no matter how afraid we might be – doesn’t cause us to doubt the existence of the game – rather, it makes the game all the more real to us.
There are those desires and those fears which belong to the conceptual world, and there are also those feelings that connect us or relate us to the non-conceptual realm, and which can on the one hand be frankly terrifying, but also on the other hand can be marvellously thrilling and magically evocative. Which way it goes depends upon our relationship to the ‘radical unknown’ – whether we are well-disposed towards it or not-so-well disposed to it (i.e. whether we are adventurous or conservative in our outlook). Insofar as our allegiance is to the Polar Self (the self which is made up of YES and NO reactions, positive and negative judgements) then our relationship with the non-conceptual world is going to be one of flat uncompromising terror, terror with no ‘give’ in it at all. This is not the ordinary everyday type of fear, which we can relate to something known, something specified, but the type of ‘super-fear’ that is evoked by the radical unknown, which is something that we have successfully (if temporarily) denied, and then forgotten about.
This is of course what happens every time we deny something that we are afraid of – by refusing to admit that it exists we make it not just a thousand times (or a million times) more frightening, it puts what we are afraid of into another league of fear entirely. Our denial (which is supposed to protect us from fear) actually creates a whole new dimension of fear. The PCW is both a support system for the everyday self, and it is our full-scale denial of reality itself, which has no relationship whatsoever with our concepts. What sort of relationship can our literal descriptions have with the non-literal world that they are supposedly describing, after all? Or to put this another way, what sort of relationship does our ‘imposed framework of meaning’ have with the reality that we are imposing this meaning on? Do we really imagine that our cut-and-dried categories of thought are to be found anywhere outside of our thoughts? The whole point of this business of ‘imposing a framework of meaning on the world’ is that if we don’t impose it then it won’t be there; that’s why we have to ‘impose’ it, after all!
Reality itself is different order of thing entirely from the models that are made of it by the thinking mind – there’s no comparison. The conceptual reality is made up entirely of boxes, of categories, of YES’s and NO’s; it is made up entirely of ‘predetermined answers to closed questions,’ in other words. Non-conceptual reality, on the other hand, is just what it is – it doesn’t relate to anything and it isn’t an answer to any question. Non-conceptual reality doesn’t have to relate to anything, it doesn’t have to fit into any predetermined scheme of things, any ‘framework’. Reality is free to as be ‘as odd as it pleases’, so to speak. From the point of view of any framework we might be using to orientate ourselves, reality is actually the oddest anything ever could be – it’s right off the scale! That’s why we always discount it. Reality – obviously enough – doesn’t need to relate to anything or fit into anything; it doesn’t need to relate to anything or fit into anything because there isn’t anything apart from itself. What is there apart from reality, after all?
Living in the PCR is an utterly preposterous business – there’s absolutely nothing good about it apart from the fact (important to us) that it confirms the existence of the conceptual self! No matter which way we turn we keep on bumping into our own over-used concepts, and if this isn’t claustrophobic then what is? Our house, our dwelling place, is full of junk, and all for the sake of maintaining the conceptual self, which is itself junk! The whole thing keeps chasing itself around in circles. The conceptual self is junk and yet we are very much attached to it, which is to say, we are very much afraid of losing it. We’re very much afraid of losing the conceptual self because we ‘don’t know anything else’ and we’re afraid of ‘knowing anything else’ because ‘knowing something else’ would fatally jeopardize the integrity of the illusory conceptual self! This is nature of the loop we’re stuck in.
What a situation to be in! To set it out clearly (as we just have done) is to immediately see how ludicrous it is – we have to live in a world from which everything radically unexpected (everything radically new) has been excluded. Any ‘newness’ (any so-called newness) has to come from endlessly recombining the same old basic conceptual units; the ‘real thing’, the ‘genuine article’, newness itself, has to be ‘off limits’ because if it isn’t ‘off limits’ then that would spell the beginning of the end of the limited self we think we are. We would no longer be able to carry on with this particular illusion. So we have to live in a world in which it is never going to be possible for us to be radically surprised in order to protect this painfully limited concept of ourselves, even though living as this painfully limited concept of ourselves isn’t doing us any good at all. We’re only playing this wretched game because we’re afraid not to, after all…
This world that we’re living in a ‘PCR’, of this there can be no doubt. If the world as we experience it is ‘intelligible to the rational mind’ then it must be the conceptual reality that we’re talking about. It wouldn’t be intelligible in the rational mind’s terms otherwise. The world we rationally understand (the intelligible world) is something that – as we have said – we have obtained for ourselves by imposing our ‘assumed framework’ on the world and then compelled everything to make sense in relation to it. The world doesn’t make sense though – not really. Nothing ‘makes sense’. The universe is an enigma, as Umberto Eco says. How often do we find ourselves in that world which fundamentally doesn’t make sense to the rational / conceptual mind however? Or as we could also say, how often do we relate to the world not as the conceptual self, not seeing things only as they appear through the distorting lens of the self with all its biases and prejudices? How often do we ‘step outside of ourselves’, in other words? Are we even interested in such a thing?