The movement into disequilibrium is movement away from the defined operating parameters of the system into whatever it is that exists outside of these parameters. When we phrase things like this it’s clear that no one is going to be very interested in any sort of ‘disequilibrium state’ — it seems to spell one thing and one thing only — error.
From the viewpoint of a machine, any machine, this is of course true — as we all know, there’s only one way for a machine to work and an infinity of ways for it not to work! Moving away from the normative or equilibrium values is not a particularly helpful thing for machines, therefore. This isn’t the end of the matter though, even though we almost always think that it is. It’s the end of the matter for machines, for sure, but then again — not everything is a machine, not everything is mechanical.
If everything was mechanical then the movement into disequilibrium would not be a very interesting thing — who gets interested when their car fails to start in the morning, after all? Who gets intrigued when their laptop fails to boot up properly? But as we have said, not everything is a machine (i.e. there are also non-machine-like elements in the universe) and for this reason the movement into disequilibrium isn’t as dismally devoid in interest as we thought it was — far from being ‘devoid of interest’, it’s actually (if only we could see it) the only interesting thing in the universe! Somehow, our way of seeing the world is ‘back to front’ — it is the proper, preordained rule-based functioning of the machine that is ‘utterly devoid of interest’, not the unprogrammed and unauthorised movement into the wide-open realm of disequilibrium.
Intuitively, this is easy enough to understand — suppose for example there was such a thing as a society where everyone always did exactly what they were supposed to do and no one ever broke with convention. We can then ask ourselves the question, would this be an ‘interesting’ society, or would it be appallingly sterile? Is it not deviance from the norm that provides us with all the stuff that enriches and enlightens our culture? At the core of society we are all in rigid ‘lockstep’ with each other mind (as Eric Jantsch says in The Self-Organising Universe) and as a result nothing ever happens that has not been approved of by the consensus mind. Nothing creative can come out of this ‘conformist core’ and however nothing ever could — creativity, by its very nature, has got to involve ‘deviation from the norm’!
Mechanisms exist within society to safeguard against deviance, as every student of sociology knows. Not just students of sociology know this; we all know this on one level or another — it’s the first lesson we learn… Society functions as a machine, in other words, and this means that everything has to be with kept within the proper operational parameters. On one level we can indeed say that this is quite necessary, we can say that society has to be regulated if it is to hang together at all, but at the same time we can also observe as we just did that if everyone did conform completely to the norms then this would ultimately spell the death of that society, just as it would inevitably spell the psychological death of all the members of that society.
Adaptation to the machine always means psychic death — adaptation to the machine means that we become the machine, and when we become ‘the machine’ that is the end of everything human in us. We can’t be human and machine at the same time. Adaptation to the machine, adaptation to the ‘equilibrium value’, equals absolute sterility, absolute erosion of meaning, and there is no human being that can tolerate this insult. We can’t even glimpse what this ‘absolute sterility’ looks like — we just can’t imagine it. We might fear all sort of devils but none of them can hold a candle the devil we will find ourselves face-to-face with if we succeed in adapting to this the mechanical system. If we really wanted to see something scary (which we probably don’t), then we would need to look no further than this.
There are two things that we don’t at all appreciate in everyday life therefore. One is just how inimical adaptation to the E-state is, on the other how is how wonderful the wide-open state of disequilibrium is! This isn’t just an ordinary everyday kind of ‘failure to understand’ either; rather than just missing the point we have actually ‘inverted the understanding’. When we have adapted to equilibrium state we see movement in the direction of becoming more adapted to the prescribed value as being ultimately positive, ultimately desirable, and — by the same token — we see movement in the direction of becoming less adapted to the system something to be condemned out of hand. If we could be lucky enough to hit the jackpot and become 100% adapted, we would feel this to be the ultimate positive outcome, the ultimate ‘sweet result’ and if we were unlucky enough to miss the mark entirely, and fail in our bid to become successfully adapted, then this would be ‘the ultimately undesirable scenario’, it would be a possibility with absolutely nothing to recommend it at all.
If we see the world in the way that we have just described then this is an indication that we are looking at things the way that a machine does, therefore. This might be described as a kind of ‘litmus test’ — all we need to do in order to find out whether we are in ‘machine mode’ or not is to check in with ourselves to see if this is the way we are looking at the world or not. If we find out that we love the equilibrium state (and hate and fear all movements away from it) then this is proof positive that we are ‘machines living in the machine world’! (Not that I am ever going to believe this, or have any interest in finding out what modality I’m in, if it does so happen, as it almost certainly will happen, that I find out I am a machine that I am a machine. Machines don’t have any interest in finding out about this sort of thing; it is the Number One Characteristic of a machine it has no interest in seeing that it is a machine.
The ‘problem’ about being a machine in the machine world is precisely that we don’t have the capacity to see this very pertinent fact about our existence. If I’m relating to the world in a mechanical type way then — as far as I’m concerned — this is the only way that there is to relate to the world. Any other way is simply ‘error’, as we’ve already said. Any information that comes my way which disagrees with my unconsciously assumed premise that ‘everything is mechanical’ (which is to say, that everything in the universe has to obey ‘the rules’) will be immediately understood as being ‘error’. This is how a machine gets to be a machine, after all — by writing off any information that disagrees with its inbuilt assumptions. This is the definition of error as far as a machine is concerned — errors are whatever disagrees with our assumptions. As soon as we can see this about ourselves (i.e. that we are trapped by our assumptions), we can also see something else — we can also see the possibility of a most remarkable development, most remarkable turnaround. Suppose (and we can’t really say how this ‘change in orientation orientation’ comes about, although we know that it can come about) we somehow start taking an interest in this information that we were previously writing off as ‘error’ — what would happen then?
This is such an extraordinary thing to consider (as well as also being an extraordinary thing to actually experience, of course): to start off with, we are looking at everything in a purely mechanical way, in the ‘equilibrium or rule-based’ way. The world, when seen like this, is very heavy in ‘apparent meaning’, and completely lacking in any other, subtle form of meaning. There’s nothing subtle, nothing nuanced, in the mechanical-logical view of the world, all there is is this heavy, concrete, ‘in your face’, type of meaning (which is rather like being hit in the head with a big stick). Furthermore it also happens that if you were ever to look closely at the type of concrete meaning of which the mechanical world is made up, you would inevitably discover that it doesn’t really stand up to scrutiny. It only seems to be true because we have carefully arranged to look at things in the way that makes it seem true (without paying any attention to the fact that we have arranged to view things in this very specific way). Of course, being machines, we never do look into the meaning of things in any type of philosophical way. We act on the basis of what our categories tell us, we don’t question these categories.
When genuine, ‘agenda-free’ curiosity comes into the picture however, then everything then ‘examining the meaning that our world has for us’ is what we do and as a result of this scrutiny the old, prosaic meaning that the world had for us before fades curiously into the background (like a bully we are no longer scared of) and out of the cracks of the crumbling old order emerges something new, something of a far more subtle nature. Instead of being heavy-handed and tyrannical, this new form of ‘order’ is playful and inclusive/ — it doesn’t manifest itself in terms of ‘aggressively stated meanings’ but in terms of a wild profusion of metaphorical meanings, none of which say anything in a bald black-and-white way, and all of which open up upon examination further to reveal even greater depths, depths that we had no way of expecting. The mechanical universe confirms our expectations and reflects them back at us to create the tautological world of our thoughts, whilst the non-mechanical (or spontaneous) universe ignores our expectations completely and confounds them, revealing something that is quite irrelevant to our categories, and thereby opening up a world of space. What we had previously regarded as ‘error’ is revealed to be space itself, and what we had taken to be form (or ‘data’) turns out to be nothing more than the projection on the world of her own limiting assumptions.
Complexity pioneer Stuart Kaufmann talks about ‘order for free’ in this connection; usually — in the mechanical paradigm, that is — we have to painstakingly ‘input’ order into the system; if order is to be there then we have to create it ourselves. If we are to build a house (for example) then we have to supply everything — the architectural drawings, the raw materials and the effort and skills to put it all together, all of this has to come from us. That’s the usual way of things of course; that’s the way we all know about. We can also refer to this as the Bottom Up paradigm and it goes all the way back to the first few lines of Genesis — when God created the universe (according to the orthodox reading of this chapter) He worked ‘from the bottom up’! He created the universe ex nihilo, which is to say, he created ‘something out of nothing’.
The Top Down paradigm’ is not like this however — in the Top Down paradigms the order does not need to be painstakingly inputted bit by bit, datum by datum, step-by-step. It’s all there already — we just need to take the risk and move out of our comfort zone (or move out of ‘equilibrium’) and it will all come ‘cascading down from the heavens,’ so to speak. There’s no shortage of order if we can just be open to it, in other words! We don’t have to ‘do it ourselves’ (we wouldn’t know how to, anyway) but rather it ‘does itself’. The Top Down paradigm is exemplified by the Kabbalist and Gnostic versions of how cosmogenesis works — the universe, in these traditions, comes into being as a result of a top-down process known as emanation, which is where the original state of being (which is unknowable) Ayn Sof (or ‘the Limitless’ in the Kabbalist tradition) produces lower analogues (or degraded versions) of itself, which are tangible and knowable. This is not ‘creation’ in the sense that a traditional (non-mystical) Christian might understand it, but something else entirely, something very different there is no fiat ex nihilo here because the ‘nihilo’ actually turns out to be ‘the secret has been forgotten, the Divine source of All. This process is represented in Kabbalah as the Tree of Life (quote taken from the Wikipedia entry) –
Kabbalists believe the Tree of Life to be a diagrammatic representation of the process by which the Universe came into being. On the Tree of Life, the beginning of the Universe is placed in a space above the first sephirah, named Keter (“crown” in English). It is not always pictured in reproductions of the Tree of Life, but is referred to universally as Ain Soph Aur (Ain, “Without”; Soph, “End”; Aur, “Light”). To Kabbalists, it symbolizes that point beyond which our comprehension of the origins of Being cannot go; it is considered to be an infinite nothingness out of which the first “thing” (usually understood in Kabbalah to be something approximating “energy”) exploded to create a Universe of multiple things.
Kabbalists also do not envision time and space as pre-existing and place them at the next three stages on the Tree of Life. First is Keter, which is thought of as the product of the contraction of Ain Soph Aur into a singularity of infinite energy or limitless light. In the Kabbalah, it is the primordial energy out of which all things are created. The next stage is Chokhmah, or Wisdom, which is considered to be a stage at which the infinitely hot and contracted singularity expanded forth into space and time. It is often thought of as pure dynamic energy of an infinite intensity forever propelled forth at a speed faster than light. Next comes Binah, or Understanding, which is thought of as the primordial feminine energy, the Supernal Mother of the Universe which receives the energy of Chokhmah, cooling and nourishing it into the multitudinous forms present throughout the whole cosmos. It is also seen as the beginning of Time itself.
Taoism too may be seen as being an example of the Top Down paradigm, as we can see from this passage from the Tao Te Ching (trans: Stephen Mitchell) –
The Tao is like a well:
used but never used up.
It is like the eternal void:
filled with infinite possibilities.
It is hidden but always present.
I don’t know who gave birth to it.
It is older than God.
We can sum up what we have been saying here in terms of Extrinsic versus Intrinsic Order. Extrinsic order is the crude sort of order that we ourselves project onto the world and it operates precisely by repressing or denying any trace of Intrinsic Order, which is the order that emerges by itself, if it is allowed. What stops it emerging — we might say — is the thinking mind, which operates on the basis of Extrinsic Order. Thought has its way of understanding the world, and it is a final way — it is not open to ‘radical revision’! Clearly the thinking mind is not open to radical revision — if it were then its categories would immediately become instable and no thought would be possible. There can be no such thing as thought without a fixed or final framework, no such thing as thought without a basis that can never be questioned. Rational thought is like ‘Theological Certainty’ in this regard — the whole point is that the central (or ‘Infallible’) Dogma cannot be opened up to enquiry. Intrinsic Order is order that doesn’t exclude any possibility and whilst it cannot on this account be used to provide any sort of certainty it is remarkably rich (infinitely rich) in all sorts of wonders!
We may think in terms of what the world starts to look like after a psychedelic agent such as magic mushrooms or LSD has been ingested — all the dull old dividing lines dissolve under the onslaught of Intrinsic Order and instead of fixed geometric shapes (which is of course what is created by the ‘dividing lines’) what we see is the ‘connectedness’ of all things and this manifests in terms of a ‘fractal-type’ intricacy, such as is seen very clearly (for example) in Celtic and Mazatec art. In conclusion, we might say that here are two very different worlds, not (as we might think) just the one — one world is the world of Extrinsic Order which has everything to do with what we want to see in the world, and nothing to do with what is actually there, whilst the other world is the world of Intrinsic Order, which has nothing to do with our expectations (nothing to do with how ‘the authorities’ say we are to see in the world), but everything to do with reality itself….