The ‘ Hotel California ’ is the everyday thinking mind
We never noticed ourselves check in and (strangely enough!) we never realize that we’re not allowed to leave. So that’s the story of our lives really, when it comes right down to it. That’s it in a nutshell…
We don’t see that this is all there is to it. We don’t see the story of our lives as being that ‘we get stuck in the thinking mind and never realize that we’re stuck in it’. We don’t see things like this at all because the mind writes its own story of what’s happening, and we can’t distinguish the story that the mind is telling us from the actual reality!
This loss of the ability to distinguish actual reality from the mind’s second-hand version of it is the key psychological process at work in our lives. This is the ‘all-determining’ psychological process that, from a early stage, takes control of us and once it has taken control very rarely lets go (and never without a lot of work).
We learn psychology at college but – oddly enough – we never learn about this process. All sorts of peripheral issues are looked at and studied in great detail, with proper scientific rigour, but this absolutely key process – which totally determines how we see the world – never gets mentioned, not even in passing. The reason for this (of course) is that the science of psychology is a purely intellectual sort of an affair, which means – not to put too fine a point on it – that it’s part of the story told by the thinking mind. What we learn as ‘psychological knowledge’ is just another portion of that ongoing and never-terminating story (that ubiquitous and all-encompassing story) that we simply can’t see to be ‘only a story’. The discipline of psychology has itself become just another rational construct.
Instead of calling the product of the thinking mind ‘a story’ we could say that it’s a metaphor. So when we think we’re actually ‘running a hypothesis’ – or as Robert Anton Wilson says, we’re ‘making a guess’. It’s ‘Maybe Logic’.
We’re saying to ourselves, “Let’s suppose that the situation is such-and-such…”, and then having made this hypothesis, we proceed to run with it to see where it gets us. Perhaps it will get us somewhere useful, in which case we can use it, or then again maybe it won’t, in which case we’ll simply drop it and try again…
What this means then is that we should really be prefacing every single thought we have with the very important little words “It is as if…” In logic we could say that this is like making a proposition and saying beforehand (just to show that it is a proposition and not a bald statement of fact) ‘Let X be such-and-such…” As Wittgenstein
says, “Propositions show what they say…” But what inevitably happens is that we very quickly get lazy – we take a short-cut and we neglect to preface our thoughts with those all-important little words “It is as if…” When we make a proposition about the nature of reality we forget to indicate the propositional character of what we are asserting and so it does come out as ‘a bald statement of fact’. We forget that we’re proposing and so it comes out that we’re asserting!
This omission might seem harmless enough but it is easy to see that, once forgotten the first time, we’re simply going to fall right into the habit of never drawing attention to the fact that all of our mental activity is ‘propositional’ in character, which means that we have crossed a very significant line. We have crossed over from the strictly relativistic territory of guesses, models, propositions and hypotheses into the absolutist territory of definite statements and there are huge consequences to this. We’ve gone concrete – we’ve lost touch with the underlying relativistic (or metaphorical) nature of our own thinking process and this – inevitably – means that we’re trapped in the world of our own concrete descriptions.
The reason we’re trapped in this world is simply because we can no longer question it. What’s the point in questioning a literal statement of fact? That’s just the way it is, so all we can do is get used to it. This is of course something we hear a lot – “That’s just the way it is…” The transition from the relativistic realm (where all assertions are only ever relatively true) to the concrete realm (where all assertions are absolutely true) involves a tremendous loss of information, a tremendous collapse of possibilities. From a situation where ‘anything could be true’, where we can play about with all sorts of possibilities, we move over into the dogmatic (and profoundly unfree) situation where ‘only the one thing is true’. There’s no ‘playing about’ in the dogmatic realm.
Instead of being about play, concretized reality becomes all grim and serious, and quite lacking in any sort of humour. Everything becomes a duty, a compulsion, a rule, and this – when we reflect on it – is what the transition from childhood to adulthood is all about! We think as adults that we’ve progressed because we ‘know what’s going on’ but really all that’s happened is that we’ve ‘got concretized’, or we’ve ‘got literalized’. We’ve forgot that our thinking was only ever propositional and so we’ve got hopelessly stuck in it. Our mental horizons have narrowed down from infinity to zero and we understand this nefarious degenerative process to be some kind of advantage, a sign of ‘intellectual maturity’! And then what we do next is that we proceed to pass on – with unholy enthusiasm – our dismally limited ‘literal outlook’ to the next generation, just as soon as they’re old enough to understand us. This is schooling, not education…
This literal world, the world that’s made up of our concrete ideas, is a very restrictive one. It is restrictive because it doesn’t contain any allowance for any possibilities beyond itself. The literal mind – like Yahweh in the Old Testament – is a jealous god and it doesn’t tolerate any other versions of reality apart from its own. It’s not possible for anything to be more restrictive than the literal statement because the literal statement contains exactly zero perspective – it has to contain zero perspective or else we could look at it and see that it’s something other than what it says it is! Were this the case (were it the case that we could see the statement as having more than just the one meaning) then we would no longer be understanding it in a literal way. We’d be understanding it as a metaphor!
Instead of talking about unquestionable certainty (which is the same thing as ‘zero perspective’ or ‘literalism’) we could instead talk in terms of games. The basic definition of a game is that it’s an interaction occurring around a fixed set of rules (or that it’s the closed domain made up of ‘all the possible outcomes that have been specified by these rules’). It all comes down to the same thing. In essence, what we’re saying is that we cannot question the rules of a game. The moment we start questioning the rules (instead of simply obeying them) the game comes to an end. It’s no longer a game when this happens.
The crucial thing to understand about a game therefore is that it’s ‘organizationally closed’. This is a way of saying that no matter what we do in a game (no matter how we play it) it will never lead to a situation that hasn’t already been specified by the rules of the game! A game only ever leads to itself and never anything else (just as a literal statement only ever leads to itself). This is the nature of games (and literal statements) – that they never contain any referents to anything other than themselves. If they did then they wouldn’t be games (or literal statements). If a statement points to something outside of itself then its metaphorical not literal; if a game leads onto something that is not the game, then it isn’t a game but actual reality…
Another key aspect of organizationally-closed systems is that they’re inherently deceptive. This comes with the territory – an organizationally-closed system has to portray itself as being open otherwise it would be drawing attention to the fact that there is something other than itself, and if it did this then it would no longer be closed! This means that closed systems contain apparent exits that aren’t exits at all…
This is also true for the thinking mind – I can try to exit this mind by thinking of ways to stop thinking but these are really only virtual escapes since in reality I am still thinking… With regard to my thinking mind I can check out anytime I like – but I can never leave.
By Nick Williams | TNP