Expect Poison…

Nick Williams
8 min readMar 10



When we ‘turn our backs on the new’ then things inevitably start to get stale. The old and the familiar will always get stale. First things get stale, then they get unpleasantly and malodorously sour, and then finally they become downright toxic. ‘Expect poison from standing water’, says Blake.

The thing about this is that we always turn our backs on the new — it’s what we do. ‘Turning our backs on the new’ is the name of the game, ‘organisational closure’ is the name of the game, ‘making up our mind on things, and then never revisiting this decision’, is the name of the game. ‘Shutting down’ is the name of the game.

If we didn’t turn our backs on the new then there couldn’t be a game. There is no game in this case. There is something, but whatever that ‘something’ is it certainly isn’t a game! Playing games is all we’re interested in however and so we’re not exactly in a hurry to find out what might (or might not) happen when we don’t turn our backs on the new.

One definition of a game is to say that ‘it is the situation where there are rules saying what can happen and can’t happen’; another definition might be to say that ‘we always know who we are in a game’. Whenever I perform a specific action in a game the meaning of what I’m doing is always the same, and — furthermore — it is always me that is performing it. It’s always me that’s the same too. The defined action and the defined self which enacts the action are one and the same thing. Everything that happens is ‘predetermined’, we might say, and if something isn’t an outcome of the rules then it simply doesn’t exist. If something doesn’t belong in the Realm of Cause and Effect, then it doesn’t exist.

This situation — the closed situation where ‘rules govern everything that happens and where I always am exactly who I think I am’ (or ‘exactly who the game says I am’) — is very attractive to us. This is the Great Attractor State which holds us all in thrall. We’re comfortable with this predetermined situation and it’s the only state of affairs that we want to know about. We pretend that it is the only possible situation and we’ll put a tremendous amount of energy into maintaining this illusion. The only thing that really matters to us in life is ‘maintaining this illusion’ (not that we’ll ever admit this).

What we call sanity is this predetermined situation where ‘the rules govern everything, and we are always who we think we are’. We call this ‘sanity’ but it is anything but — what it is really is ‘the situation where we have closed the door on the new’. What it is really is ‘the situation where there’s no such thing as anything new’. This is the real problem, despite the fact that we don’t see it as such. We see it as ‘the best thing since sliced bread’, we see it as ‘the ideal situation’, we see it as ‘the way we want things to be forever’, etc.

We don’t see the real problem — ‘the real problem’ is that this maximally convenient situation is also the situation in which there is maximum entropy. ‘Maximum entropy’ — in this context — simply means that nothing new ever happens. It means that whatever our starting-off point might happen to have been, we are now stuck in it forever. Even this isn’t the full story however — S max means that we are stuck in this particular position, this particular picture of things, and that this position or picture wasn’t ever real in the first place. We’re trapped in an unreal situation. This is what entropy means, when we’re talking in psychological terms. This is exactly what entropy means, precisely what entropy means! It means this and nothing else…

We have maximum resistance to seeing this, however. If we wanted to precisely define what our psychological situation is in everyday life in as concise a way as possible, this would be it; there is nothing more we need to say on the subject than this — we are unknowingly locked into a frozen viewpoint that was never true in the first place. When we turn our backs on the new then everything is fine and dandy as far as we are concerned, but it’s not actually real and so this ‘flaw in the plan’ (this ‘lack of reality’) is going to catch up with us. There’s no way that it won’t catch up with us…

The new is all there is, the ‘formal system’ exists only in our thoughts. We seek refuge in our thoughts of how things are (or how things should be) but that refuge doesn’t really exist. We would like very much for it to exist but it doesn’t — we claim that it exists and we act as if it exists, but none of this cuts any ice. Nothing we say or do or think cuts any ice — it’s all denial, it’s all just a dream that we’re buying into. We seek refuge in the formal world of our thoughts and to start off with everything seems great to us — we can hardly bear to wait to avail of all the exciting opportunities that are on offer. We’ve got the two hundred dollars in our pockets and we’re in an awful hurry to get out there and spend it. The game is on and if you miss out it’s your own fault…

The game is on, but the game isn’t real. Great things may await us in the game, but the game is only the game. Actually, it’s all downhill from this point on; there’s no other way to go but downhill and that’s the thing we want to never want to hear — it’s not very upbeat, after all. No one’s going to hang around to hear this type of talk! All we talk is about advancement, progress, development, fulfilment, etc, but this is all fantasy as far as the thought-created sense of self is concerned. The idea of this self ‘winning’ or ‘succeeding’ in the coming struggle is the purest nonsense — for this mental idea of who we are all there is to look forward to is the ongoing process of degeneration and decay which is the unpalatable but inevitable manifestation of Hesiod’s Law of Deterioration. The illusion is that the formal world of our thoughts is a bone fide reality and this illusion is very potent, very believable, but it becomes less so as time goes on. The glossy image — because that’s all that is — fades and becomes tarnished, as images always do.

We want two contradictory things at the same time — we want to live in the super-glossy Image World and we want for this world to be actually real, we want for it to actually deliver. This isn’t the way the deal works however; it’s the way our imagination works — the way our imagination works is to say that we can progress if we play our cards right. We firmly believe that who we are in the game can ‘come out trumps’, and wipe out all the opposition, but that’s only how things seem. That’s the illusion right there. Entropy is the active principle in the world of static images and entropy means deterioration — there are no jackpots, no bonus payments to be obtained here, only glossy illusions that never deliver. The self-image has been created by entropy and so too have all the prizes that it is forever chasing. It’s all just shadows.

First we take ‘the snapshot’ — so to speak — and then we get subsumed within it, we take up residence in it — we say that this is all there is. This is the zenith, this is the ‘golden moment’, this is ‘as good as it gets’, this is ‘the high point of the proceedings’. At the same time however there is actually nowhere to go from here; there is never anywhere to go in the World of the Known. In our haste to define reality we have become disconnected from what’s going on and so it’s all downhill from here on — habit replaces originality just as the map replaces the territory. Gradually, the glamour fades and the illusion becomes more and more commonplace, more and more mundane, and so the excitement associated with it becomes less. Everything is just happening ‘automatically’, by reflex, and any meaning associated with what we’re doing is purely nominal — on paper I’m living but I no longer feel it. I’m going through the motions, but it doesn’t really mean anything. The robot has taken over, as Colin Wilson says below, and for the robot life is a matter of routine, nothing more…

When Gurdjieff says “understand the machine”, he means “understand your own robot”, the Robot being this part of us that does things for us, and which ought to be entirely good. It drives your car for you, it speaks French for you, it does all kinds of things. Unfortunately, it also does the things you don’t want it to, like — you go for a walk which really moves you deeply the first time. The second and third time, it’s the Robot walking instead of you; you listen to a symphony that moves you, the third or fourth time it’s the Robot listening as well as you, and interfering. So this automatic level, which tends to cut in particularly when we’re tired, is of tremendous importance, and obviously, because the Robot in human beings is so fiercely efficient, we are not aware of our degree of freedom.

The ‘best moment’, as far as we are concerned, is when everything has been freshly minted and the euphoria hasn’t tailed off yet — everything that happens after this will be measured against our memory of ‘the way things were’ and nothing will ever match it. In addition to the ‘decay of meaning’ that we are talking about here, there is another factor that comes into play in the Decay Phase of mechanical life and that has to do with ominous feelings that we can no longer keep at bay. The reality that we have put so much energy into denying is starting to seep in through our defences and we’re starting to be aware that there is nothing we can do about this process. We can fight against it for sure, but we aren’t going to win; we have managed to outrun the truth in the short term (we are given the freedom to do this), but it’s going to catch up with us in the end…

The truth that is gradually getting revealed (as a result of the insulation afforded by our games starting to fail) isn’t ‘toxic’ but it also isn’t anything we are in any hurry to learn about. It is the activity whereby we defend ourselves against this truth that produces the toxicity — essentially, there is a huge amount of ‘unacknowledged pain displacement’ going on. Blaming mechanisms are working at full capacity. The situation that we have adapted to — which is ‘the situation where [1] everything always happens according to the rules and [2] the rules say who we are’ — just happens to be utterly intolerable, utterly inimical to us. It may not sound intolerable but it is — if this set up sounds OK to us then that’s only because we haven’t looked into it sufficiently yet. We’re not that keen to look into it either — understandably enough — and so we can say, echoing Aeschylus, that wisdom is always something that comes to us against our will….