Servants Of The Mechanical Mind

We humans are – for the most part – a highly ‘incurious’ folk. We’re not naturally like that but we’ve become like that. We just want to be left in peace so that we can go on doing whatever it is that we already are doing. We don’t want to be bothered, in other words. Whatever the thing is, we just want to be allowed to carry on with it and not to be interfered with. We don’t want to have anything else coming into the picture. We implicitly see whatever it is that we are doing as ‘good’ and anything that gets in the way of it as being ‘bad’ (and this is not because of any inherent special virtue in what we doing, but simply because it happens to be what we are doing).

 

This isn’t a moral judgement, even though it tends to sound like it. It’s just the way things are. For the most part we genuinely do believe that whatever it is we’re doing does have some special inherent value; we’re absolutely convinced that it does and it would take a hell of a lot to dent our conviction. This is therefore a matter that’s ‘out of our control’; it’s out of our control because we aren’t in control – we are being controlled by our beliefs, we are being controlled by a customary way of seeing and behaving in the world. If we have beliefs about the world or about ourselves (and who doesn’t?) then we going to be controlled by them – that’s just the way it works. To say this might in itself strike us as being odd since, more often than not, we see our beliefs as empowering us, strengthening us,providing us with a solid foundation to face life from and so on. Moreover, we see our beliefs as being our ‘choice’, which is of course very different kettle of fish from power ‘being controlled by them’! And yet we are being controlled by our beliefs and this could hardly be otherwise – any description of the world that we can’t (or won’t) question is always going to control us.

 

This brings us back to what we started off this discussion by saying – that it is our nature – by and large –to be a profoundly incurious folk. It is our beliefs, our habitual and well-worn ideas about reality, that cause us to be incurious (or ‘unquestioning’). To live with a belief about the world is to be unquestioning of that world; to have ideas about things is to be incurious about those things. Beliefs by their very nature are something that we automatically accept, just as ideas are, just as thoughts are. To go around being completely hemmed in by a fog beliefs, ideas, conceptions and thoughts is to be deadened by them therefore – we are deadened by them because we are never actually looking at anything, not really. We’re not looking at anything because of all of our thinking, because of the constant activity of the rational mind. Being a ‘thinker’ isn’t such a great thing after all!

 

We could of course ‘look’ at our thoughts (in a curious way) and this would be a very interesting thing to do. The thing is however that we don’t look at our thoughts – thoughts have this kind of a property in them that means that they automatically direct our attention to some ‘predetermined target’. We’re ‘told where to look’ in other words. We are deftly directed elsewhere, and the thought (whatever it might be) doesn’t want us to look at it. It’s like a signpost in this respect – a signpost doesn’t want us to look at it, it wants us to look at where it is pointing. We’re always thinking about ‘some-thing’, in other words, and what this ‘something’ is is inevitably a construct of thought! Actually, we can’t think about something that isn’t already a construct of thought!

 

Our thoughts don’t director us towards reality in other words, and this is the point that we find so hard to understand. The thought stands for some element in reality but it doesn’t direct us to reality – it CAN’T do that because reality isn’t a predetermined target, because reality is ‘uncertain’ or ‘fluid’. Thought works by ‘specifying’ and how can we specify something that is uncertain? How can we point at something flows, something that isn’t the same thing twice? What we are saying here is that ‘the thought’ and ‘what is being thought about’ aren’t two different things, much as we might imagine them to be. Looking at this the other way around we can say that ‘thought’ and ‘reality’ are two qualitatively different things and that the former doesn’t lead onto the latter. There is a discontinuity between the two that we would need to ‘actively jump over’. Being passively pushed or pulled along by thought isn’t going to do that.

 

What thought does therefore is that it ‘refers us to itself’, or – to express this another way – thought refers us to its signifier or referent for reality as if this signifier or referent for reality were the same thing as reality. This is what we might call ‘the Hyperreality Principle’ in honour of Jean Baudrillard – the invisible conflation of the map and the territory. The ‘reference’ and ‘what is being referenced’ are taken as being one and the same thing and this is why Anthony De Mello says ‘Thought as a screen, not a mirror; that is why you live in a thought envelope, untouched by reality’.

 

A thought stands for some element in reality but it doesn’t direct us to reality – it can never do that. It can’t do that because reality is not a predetermined target, reality is not because reality is ‘uncertain’ or ‘fluid’. It isn’t as fixed or static thing thought always specifies and so how can we specify something that is uncertain. We point to something that is uncertain. What we are saying here is that thought and what is being thought about aren’t two different things, much as we might imagine them to be that they are. Looking at this the other way round we can say that thought and reality are two qualitatively different things and – furthermore – that the former doesn’t lead onto the latter. There is a discontinuity between the two that we would need to actively jump over. Being passively pushed or pulled by thought isn’t going to do that and so when ‘thought is our master’ then we are never going to leave the Domain of Thought. We’re not ever going to be directed outside of the envelope and so we won’t know that there is ‘an outside’.

 

We can see that this is the case quite easily just by watching ourselves – thinking is continuous, not episodic, and when we think we slide from one thought to another without a break. We imagine that we are taking a break, we ‘think’ that we aren’t thinking all the time, but we are. In order not to be ‘caught up in thinking all the time’ (and ‘thinking about nothing else but our own thoughts’,as Alan Watts says) we would have to be consciously paying attention when we’re‘lost in thought’ and we just don’t remember to do this.That’s why we’re ‘lost’! We’re preoccupied with one thought after another and when this happens we don’t know that we thinking, we don’t see that we’re thinking, and so we’re not in reality at all. We’re somewhere else. We’re ‘untouched by reality’, just as Anthony De Mello says.

 

So the point of all this is that if we are ‘lost in thought’, as Eckhart Tolle says, or contained ‘within the envelope of thought’, as Anthony De Mello puts it then of course we are going to be incurious about the world about us. We don’t even know that there is a word outside of us, as strange as this may sound! We assume that we are ‘present in reality’ but the truth is that we are simply being ‘automatically referred on’ from one thought to another in what is actually a repeating loop. Usually the loop is big enough so that we don’t notice that it’s a loop; sometimes however – and a good example is when we’re lying in bed late at night unable to get to sleep because of worries that are bothering us –we can actually see the loops. Not that being aware of being trapped in a loop helps us any course – at least not in the short-term! Anxiety – as it happens – makes us even less curious about the world, or about life, than we normally would be. We become even more caught up in our thoughts (as every anxiety-sufferer knows) – the suffering caused by being trapped in our heads can easily be just as bad (or even worse, perhaps) than the pain that is being created by the anxiety. They can be experienced as two different types of pain.

 

It could of course be said that when we are anxious we are still interested in somethings – we are interested (albeit in a ‘negative’ or ‘fearful’ way) in what we are anxious about. We’re interested in finding solutions to whatever problems it is that are on our mind. We’re interested in learning how to be free from our anxiety (i.e. we are interested in the ‘solution’ to our anxiety). This isn’t curiosity however because we are only responding to the pressure that our thinking is putting us under – the pressure to ‘solve the problem’, whatever the problem might happen to be. Curiosity can never happen (on the other hand) as a result of pressure – curiosity happens freely, not as a result of pressure that’s been put on us. We can’t be compelled to be curious. Curiosity is an expression of our innate freedom, in other words.

 

This gives us a good way of explaining why we can never be ‘curious about the world or ‘curious about ourselves’ when we are contained within the envelope of thought – we don’t have any freedom to be curious, we are on far too tight a leash for that. Instead of having a genuine interest in things we are agenda-driven; when thought is our master then everything we do is agenda-driven, which is to say, we are motivated by the need to obtain something we think will be of value to us, or avoid something we believe to be bad news for us. This is the motivation of attraction/aversion, the ‘motivation that is imposed upon us from the outside’, the ‘motivation of the mechanical mind’. It isn’t too hard to understand how the motivation of the mechanical mind causes us to operate on the basis of greed or fear the whole time, what we don’t perhaps appreciate so quickly is ow ‘Extrinsic Motivation’ (which is the antithesis of curiosity) causes us to be as incredibly gullible as we are with regard to whatever picture of reality it is that we are being presented with. When we are ‘incurious’ then no matter what picture of reality we are presented with by the thinking mind/conceptualising mind, we are going to accept it at face value. Of course we are, that’s what ‘being incurious’ means – it means that we will go along with whatever the ‘accepted thing’ seems to be and that is exactly what we human beings are like, for the most part. To be unconscious is to be malleable. What we are concerned with is ‘looking for the advantage’ and ‘avoiding the disadvantage’ in the terms of the framework that we have been given. This has nothing to do with curiosity about the framework. Our attention is always ‘on the small stuff,’ in other words.

 

When we’re curious then we are looking at the ‘big picture’ but whoever looks at the ‘big picture’? This isn’t really ‘the done thing’ – we won’t fit into society by being interested in the big picture, after all. What’s more, if we were to catch a glimpse of the big picture – which has nothing to do with our personal hopes and fears, nothing to do with the all-consuming dramas of our everyday lives – then this would ‘upset the apple cart’. No one likes to be shaken up out of their comfortable sleep. No one likes to be disturbed from their habitual pattern of doing and seeing things and this is precisely what ‘being curious’ always does! As we’ve said, we just want to be allowed to carry on doing whatever it is that we’re already doing,and we don’t care what that is.We’re not interested in what that is, just as we’re not (really) interested in whatever it is we believe in (just so long as we have something to believe in). We’re not interested in seeing whatever it is we’re doing, we’re just interested in ‘carrying on doing it’ and ‘carrying on not being interested in it and if this doesn’t sound particularly inspirational, then that’s because it isn’t!

 

 

Art: street art in Kaunas, Lithuania

 

 

 

 

Outside the Framework

Holomovement

There are two very straightforward statements that we can make that can – between them – revolutionize our understanding of both the world and ourselves. The first statement is this:

The only way we can obtain quantitative data, literal truths, or a definite story-line about ‘who we are and what has happened to us’ is within the context of the abstract framework which is provided by the rational mind.

 

There is absolutely no way – no way at all – that we can obtain quantitative data or literal truths or a definite narrative without the framework that has been provided for us. Quantitative data, literal truths, facts and figures, etc, simply do not exist in out there the world, waiting there to be dug up out of the ground ready-formed like potatoes! The second statement is this:

All possible frameworks are only provisional in nature.

 

‘Provisional’ means that the frameworks in question aren’t really there – they’re only there because we agree for them to be there, they’re only there because we adopt the convention that they’re there, because we adopt the convention of looking at the world in this way. Something that is ‘provisional’ is ‘accepted or adopted tentatively; conditional; probationary.’ (Dictionary.com)

 

If we put these two statements together then the result is quite strange. The only way we can know anything ‘for sure’ about the world is via the abstract framework of the rational mind and yet what we know as a result of this rational activity is only valid in relation to the framework in question, not outside of it. So if this is the case then this poses the question as to what we really know about the world, or about ourselves. It is not hard to show why it is that the thinking mind can never tell us anything about reality. The universe, as quantum physics pioneer David Bohm says, is a flow – it is an ongoing stream of change. Change – very plainly – means that ‘nothing stays the same’. The framework of the thinking mind however does ‘stay the same’ – that is after all the only way it can be a framework!

 

We can very easily say that the universe is an ongoing stream of change and that change means ‘nothing stays the same’ but when we say this the chances are that we don’t really understand the profundity of what we are saying. We don’t see how radical an idea this is. According to David Bohm, “Not only is everything changing, but all is flux.Flux, Bohm goes on the say, means –

…the process of becoming itself, while all objects, events, entities, conditions, structures, etc., are forms that can be abstracted from this process.

Nothing has any independent existence apart from or outside of what Bohm calls the ‘holomovement’

Each relatively autonomous and stable structure is to be understood not as something independently and permanently existent but rather as a product that has been formed in the whole flowing movement and what will ultimately dissolve back into this movement.

If everything is ‘the holomovement’ (or flux, as the ancient Greek philosopher Heraclitus said two and a half thousand years before Bohm) then the world that we believe in so absolutely, so unquestioningly, isn’t real. Everything changes and nothing stands still”, Plato quotes Heraclitus as saying, but our thoughts stand still.

 

The world we believe in and relate to everyday day doesn’t change, doesn’t flow. It’s a static fixture made up of autonomously existing ‘objects, events, entities, conditions, structures’, to use Bohm’s words. There are relatively stable aspects to the universe but these aspects exist within the greater context of the holomovement and it is this ‘fluid context’ that the thinking mind ignores. The world we believe in is therefore a construct of thought (we wouldn’t believe in it otherwise because we don’t believe in anything that our thinking mind doesn’t validate as real) and there is no way that thought can produce anything that isn’t static. That just can’t happen…

 

Everything we know we know as a result of using a static framework as a system of reference and the static framework isn’t real. The static framework which is the rational mind shows us an entirely false picture of reality therefore – it shows us a picture that has no flow in it! “Thought can organize the world so well that you are no longer able to see it” Anthony de Mello says. Thought organizes the world by representing the moving in terms of static categories or classes.

 

The view that the rational mind shows us can contain a type of change, but what we’re talking about here is ‘change-within-the terms-of-a-framework’ – it is in other words what is called ‘linear change’. Linear change means ‘change in accordance with a fixed rule’. Linear change isn’t really change at all when it comes down to it – the fixed rule that governs it doesn’t change so how can the linear analogue of change contain change if the rule that determines it doesn’t contain any? Rules are fixed – they never give rise to genuine change. They are the antithesis of change. The whole point of a rule is after all to make sure that there is no ‘deviation from the plan’! Anything the static framework shows us is just the static framework, and so by definition there’s never going to be any change there.

 

Another way of approaching all of this is to say that the ‘static framework’ which we have been talking about is simply the self. We see everything from the viewpoint of the self, naturally! Where I to see the world as flow (as a poet or an artist might) rather than a series of static representations then this would necessarily mean that I am ‘out of my mind’, and being ‘out of my mind’ means that I am not myself! We are all potentially poets or artists but what holds us back is our insistence in sticking within the fixed framework of the thinking mind, along with our automatic identification with the mind-created self that goes with this framework. The closed / fixed viewpoint that we call the self is – from a thermodynamic perspective – an equilibrium value and we stick to this tried and trusted equilibrium value like glue. Dynamite couldn’t blast us out of this comfortable, narrow, rule-based way of seeing the world…! And yet the universe as a whole is ‘out of equilibrium’ – an ‘equilibrium’ is a still point around which everything turns and the universe (as a whole) doesn’t contain any ‘still points’.

 

The fact that we are seeing everything from the viewpoint of the self means therefore that we cannot see the world that is really there, the world that is independent of our static or rule-based viewpoint. We can’t see the holomovement. The static FW sees everything in terms of itself; the self sees everything in terms of itself. It’s the same thing. We can expand on this point by talking in terms of ‘like and dislike’: when we are crudely identified with the mind-created self (which is the usual way to be, the default way to be) then the world we relate to is made up either of ‘stuff that we like’ or ‘stuff that we don’t like’. Anything else passes unnoticed – it’s disregarded or passed over because it’s clearly not important!

 

Or if we want to talk in terms of the rational mind, then we can say when we are constrained only to look at the world in terms of this mind, this FW, then the world is made up of stuff that is either confirmation or novelty. Confirmation means that the information we are receiving agrees with the assumptions that we have made in order to obtain a black-and-white picture of the world (the assumptions that give rise to the static FW) whilst novelty is information that does not agree, that does not fit into the slots that are there. Confirmation is what we notice therefore whilst novelty on the other hand is almost entirely filtered out. And yet what we are calling ‘confirmation’ is nothing other than the shadow of our assumed framework cast out on the world!

 

If we say that the self is an abstract framework then like and dislike, good and bad, right and wrong, etc are no more than projections of this abstract FW. We aren’t seeing the flow therefore – we’re just seeing our own static mind reflected back at us. ‘Like and dislike’, ‘right and wrong’ isn’t the flow! The flow has nothing to do with like and dislike, right or wrong. We could equivalently say that the self isn’t the flow, that the flow has nothing to do with the self. What does this tell us about the self, however? It tells us something that is not generally very palatable to us. Only the flow is real. Only the holomovement is real. [Only’ isn’t quite the right word here of course because the flow is everything. There isn’t anything that isn’t the flow.] So where does this leave the self, which is the fixed point around which everything turns?

 

Only the flow is real and yet here we are stuck in a world that is no more than a reflection of an abstract framework that we have somehow adopted as ‘the only possible way of seeing the world’. What a bizarre situation this is! The abstract FW (the static viewpoint) is the self and the self – as we have been saying – has zero capacity to see the flow, zero capacity to be in the flow. What we are calling ‘the flow’ is actually the single most threatening thing the self could ever encounter. The reason the flow is so very threatening to the self is as we have said because there can be no self in the flow. For the self to admit the existence of the flow is for it to admit its own essential non-existence and it goes against the self’s nature to admit this…

 

There’s no way around this. There’s no way that this can’t be the case – any flow at all, any genuine change at all, and the self is utterly gone. Any genuine movement at all and the self blinks out of existence immediately – it blinks out of existence as if it had never been there in the first place. That’s the way it is with static fixtures, that’s the way it is with abstract frameworks! Seeing as how this is what always happens when the self encounters any sort of genuine change, it is no wonder that it doesn’t want to have anything to do with the real world, which is the world of flow…

 

As we’ve said, we aren’t able to appreciate what is meant by ‘the flow’. It is not something that the psychostatic mind can understand. It can’t get it. We can get it, but not when we’re operating out of the thinking mind. But all there is is the flow – everything is the flow, the flow is everything, and there isn’t anything that isn’t the flow. So what are we doing? We’re making everything revolve around a fixed point (an abstract FW) that isn’t actually there.

 

There is a way in which we can have a sense of our true situation, however. The awareness is there somewhere! All we need to do is to see that what we’re really talking about here is the present moment, the now. The now is the only place we can ever be (the now is everything and everything is the now) and yet the now never stays still! It is all that there is, but what is it? We can never lay our hands on the now; we can never say what it is because as soon as we try to say what it is it’s something else. It’s moved on…

 

Reality is only ever in the now. Where else could it be? And yet the now is fleeting – it is never fixed. It is never part of any logical structure. It’s not a replication of ‘what has gone before’. The present moment is thus always ‘fleeing away from us’, so to speak – it is always moving away from the clutches of the fixed framework, moving away into the radical unknown, and yet actually it isn’t fleeing away from us, it isn’t moving away from the fixed framework. The now isn’t fleeing away from us (it isn’t moving away from the fixed framework) for the simple reason that there’s nothing fixed there to be fleeing (or moving away) from!