Collapsing The Complex Whole

Nick Williams
6 min readMay 8, 2023
William Blake (1757–1827), Capaneus the Blasphemer, 1824–1827, from artandobject.com

When we’re blissfully unaware of all the self-contradictions and paradoxicality that exist in our everyday lives then what this shows is that we’re not living in the real world at all. What this shows is that we’re living in a made-up world, a crassly oversimplified world.

This crassly oversimplified world is ‘the world of our thoughts’ and it’s the only world we know. We can’t for the life of us see how it could be any other way. ‘Thou shalt not worship any God but me’, says thought, and being completely under its power there is no question of us not following its commandments in this regard. What the tyrant says goes, and that’s it. And that’s how the oversimplified world comes into existence — out of our automatic obedience to the thinking mind.

It’s only by observing limits or rules that we can create what we are calling ‘the oversimplified situation’ which means of course that the true situation (which is to say the situation of how things actually are in themselves) is ‘non simple’, or complex. ‘Complex’ doesn’t mean complicated or convoluted or anything like that, it means that there are many aspects to whatever is being considered, many side such that any one side (or any one aspect) cannot tell us anything about any of the others.

There’s no possibility of a divine all-encompassing point of view from which we can observe the world, says complexity pioneer Ilia Prigogine, and this is another way of saying that no matter what we’re looking at there’s always going to be more to the picture than there immediately appears to be. ‘The more you look the more there is to see’, as the line in the Beatles track goes. This is the Complex Whole, which is a quintessentially irrational reality that cannot be accounted for or explained by any formula. The Complex Whole is the Great Enigma, in other words.

Under the influence of thought we always want to collapse this enigma, this complex whole, into a single aspect, a single logically consistent picture of reality that can be accounted for by some sort of formula. We always want to collapse the Complex Whole into the Known World, therefore, and so we can say that the Known World is the perfect antithesis of what is actually true, what is actually the case. The Known World is ‘a lie that we are incapable of seeing through’; we’re incapable of seeing through it since we ourselves are part and parcel of that lie.

The Known World (which is to say, the world of our thoughts) is a vastly smaller world than the world that is there ‘all by itself’, and yet when we are living in it (i.e., when we have successfully adapted ourselves to it) we can’t see that this is the case. The world that is created by our thoughts is an analogue of the original reality, and the point about an analogue is that to be adapted to it is to be unable to see it as an analogue or substitute. Via the process of the great Information Collapse we produce the world where ‘things are always what we catalogue them as being’, and we are — as a result of being trapped in this false world — separated from the actual reality, which is where things are never what we say that they are, are never what we assume them to be…

Reality itself is a slippery customer, therefore. It’s a slippery customer because whatever we say it is, it isn’t (or because wherever we say it is, it isn’t). The whole point of ‘locating stuff’ is of course that ‘it is where we say it is and nowhere else’ and so when we run into the situation where ‘wherever we say it is, it isn’t’ then what we’ve ran into is the paradigm of non-locality, which is basically the situation where reality isn’t being bullied into obeying our rules for it, isn’t being coerced into falling neatly into our homemade categories. The rules or categories belong in our theory of how things are, not anywhere else, but reality isn’t just another of our tame constructs, we might say. It’s very far from this indeed — reality is wild, as Itzhak Bentov says. It’s completely untamed, and for this reason we are afraid of it.

The Local World is nested within the Non-Local one such that when we are adapted to it we can’t in any way relate to the wider context of non-locality. We can’t in any way relate to the Non-Local World or see how there could ever be such a thing, and it is this incapacity that causes the Local World to seem real to us. It is only because of our blinkers that the Local World has its (apparent) integrity, it’s only because of this type of blindness (or concreteness) that there seems to be such a thing, in other words. The Collapsed Analogue of Reality wouldn’t be able to function as ‘an analogue’ unless we were absolutely scrupulous in obeying the rules that thought imposes us on us, as we said earlier. In order to live in the world which is a construct (but which never declares itself as such) we have to be tamed, we have to be conditioned, we have to be shaped

‘Conditioning’ means that we never look beyond what thought has said, it means that we never query the rules of the game, but if we do start to look beyond the world that thought has defined for us, if we do start to question the constraints that the game was placed upon us, then we straightaway come face-to-face with a reality that radically differs from the one that we have been taking for granted all of our lives. We start to notice the self-contradictions, the paradoxicality, and if we go any further down this road (the road of gaining insight into paradoxicality) then this will fatally injure the integrity of thought’s Analogue World. It can’t hold together anymore — the fiction of thought’s Oversimplified World falls to pieces before our very eyes. On one hand this is extremely disturbing (since our basic way of understanding things has been banjaxed) but on the other hand this also means that we are no longer subject to the illusory restriction that is the Mind-Created World. We have been able to ‘sneak through the crack of paradox’, as Itzhak Bentov puts it.

An example of ‘paradoxicality’ would be where something is in one location, but it is also in another, or where the answer to the question is <yes> but it is also <no>. We automatically dismiss such results as ‘errors’ because we just can’t make sense of them, because they are so obviously wrong, but if the truth were to be known it’s our normal, everyday, logical way of looking at things that is the error. Reality isn’t logical, after all — in no way does it follow the principles of logic, in no way does it obey any rules. We could say therefore that the Oversimplified World which is thought’s analogue of reality only appears to be non-complex when we don’t look too closely into it. It does an approximation of being non-complex and this approximation was good enough for us because we weren’t paying any attention anyway. We were paying attention to the game, not to the rules of the game; we were fixating grimly upon the Small Picture.

Under closer examination (which is to say, when we become curious about what lies outside the game) we can see that what we previously took to be ‘a bounded and logically consistent world’ is complex and unbounded, and that even finite things are infinite really, once we see them clearly (once ‘the gates of perception are cleansed’, as William Blake says). We had decided — by default — to limit the way in which we are able to look at our environment and then we forgot that we did this, then we forgot that we had the blinkers on, and so we got to imagine that we live in a Bounded World, a world that is made up of finite things, a world that does not ‘lead on to anything else’. So — as a result — here we are living in an illusion that leads nowhere but right back to itself.

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