Loss Of Wonder In The Causal Realm
Khalil Gibran says something to the effect that if we can keep our eye on the daily miracle that is our life — which is admittedly not an easy thing to do — then we would wonder no less at our pain and suffering then we would at our joy. We would in this case wonder equally at everything! This might sound suspiciously like mere ’empty piety’, but this is far from being the case — it is demonstrably true that if we don’t lose sight of the bigger picture then we will wonder at everything that comes our way. How could we not wonder? What will seem to be ‘wholly negative’ in a very black-and-white way is actually nuanced. The very same might be said to be true of unconsciousness — if we keep an eye on the ongoing miracle of reality, then the phenomenon of unconsciousness will seem to us to be no less a matter for wonderment than the phenomenon of consciousness does. Anything we don’t judge is a matter for wonderment.
To be going right around in an unconscious state is just as much of a miracle as when we go around being conscious, the only proviso here being that when we are unconscious then we do not in any way see our existence as being ‘miraculous’. The reason for this — we might say — is because we are wholly subsumed within the causal realm, the ‘realm of cause and effect’. In the causal world — needless to say — everything that exists has a cause and the very fact that it has been caused means that it is not going to seem miraculous to us. If anyone were to ask us about some particular phenomenon we would simply point to the cause and say ‘It’s because of that’. ‘It’s because of that’, we say, and then there’s no more discussion on the subject. We will explain all phenomena in terms of their causes and it is by doing this that we create ‘the Domain of the Known’. In the Domain of the Known everything is known, everything can be explained in a logical way, and this means that nothing is a miracle.
This device of ours is however not in the least bit legitimate. We are — as has often been pointed out — merely avoiding the issue by doing this. We are avoiding the mystery of the Whole by focussing only on the fragmentary view that thought shows us. A very simple example of this type of thing is where we ‘explain’ the world by saying that God created it for his own inscrutable reasons. Then — when we look around at the world — we are not in the least bit surprised by it. We know that God created the world and this furnishes us with what looks like a very legitimate explanation. What could be more legitimate explanation than ‘God wanted it to be so’? It is of course true that we still pay lip-service to what we call ‘the Miracle of Creation’ — we feel duty bound to do this after all. We say it, but we don’t feel it. No one can perceive a miracle out of a sense of obligation, after all. The same is true when we’re talking about a ‘sense of gratitude’ — we know that we have an obligation to be grateful to God for creating the world (of course) but the very fact that we have this sense of obligation means that it is perfectly impossible for us to genuinely experience the emotion. By saying ‘God created the world’ we have denied ourselves the possibility of feeling any wonder. We cannot blame God for this however but only ourselves; it is our own mental manoeuvre that has done this to us and nothing else. Wherever there is a concrete explanation there can be no wonder.
It’s not just in rational religion that we find this type of thing going on — Richard Feynman pointed out that our ‘explanations’ in science have exactly the same character: we can define one fundamental force (for example magnetism) in terms of another force, and then we can proceed to explain that force in terms of yet another one, until eventually we come right back to where we started. What exactly have we had we ‘explained’, in this case? If there’s one thing we know for sure it’s that loops don’t explain anything! This is reminiscent of Alan Watts’ ‘dictionary game’ which is where we pick a word at random and then look up the definition of the words that the dictionary uses to explain our chosen word with. Eventually — Alan Watts says — we will come back to the very same word that we started off with. If we are short-sighted in our approach to life then we can allow ourselves to imagine that everything has been satisfactorily explained (and as a result we can rest in a state of comforting ontological security); when we look into the matter a bit more deeply however we can see that nothing has been explained and that everything is still every bit as much of a mystery as it started out by being.
The thinking mind is the very same as a dictionary in this respect — it is made up of ‘loops of meaning’ that only seem to explain things. This is necessarily so since there is nothing for the cause-and-effect chains of inference to attach themselves to but themselves! There isn’t any definite foundation, there isn’t any convenience ‘skyhook’ for us to hang everything off. If we want a skyhook then we will just have to make one ourselves and this is precisely what we do do. We hang everything on some conveniently skyhook or other and the effect of doing this is to remove all wonder from the world. The skyhook we are using in order to do this (in order to ground our ‘chains of cause and effect’) isn’t really there at all and this means that the ‘lack of wonder’ isn’t there either — even though the ‘lack’ in question is very much there for us in a pragmatic or subjective way. In the absence of wonder (in the absence of the awareness that ‘there is no skyhook’) the type of meaning’ that we are subjected to flattens us. It flattens us because there’s no getting away from it, because this is a stone that we can’t crawl out from under. This type of meaning (which is Extrinsic or Assigned Meaning) flattens us because there is absolutely no nuance in it — it is in other words ‘the type of meaning that imprisons us‘. ‘No nuance’ means absolute containment; we have become two-dimensional (or fractional) beings, locked into the Realm of the Known, which is the Realm of Thought.
From inside of this realm, this self-sustaining bubble of thought, it is impossible for us to perceive just how restrictive it is. We can’t actually perceive the restriction at all. One way in which we can appreciate the walls that contain us however is in terms of our reaction to what thought tells us, our reaction to our rational understanding of whether our situation is good or bad, advantageous or disadvantages. In short, being subsumed within the causal realm of thought means that we are going to react in a remarkably ‘flat’ and mechanical way; we react to the completely ‘un-nuanced’ picture of reality that the rational mind is providing us with in a manner that is equally ‘un-nuanced’. Our reactions are mechanical and so too are the moods that we fall into as a result of us believing the story-line that we have been provided with. Once I judge (or rather once the thinking mind judges) my situation is being unfavourable then I’m ‘down in the dumps’ immediately and although I can’t see it, there is something more than just a little bit ridiculous about the mechanical correspondence between my mood and the description of reality that thought has provided me with. There is something comical about it, even though I absolutely can’t see it. Instead of any perception of the comical way in which how I feel is completely determined by the arbitrary movement of thought, I will feel ‘bad’ in a way in a very literal, very non-nuanced, very ‘non-ironical’. There is basically ‘no talking to me’; there’s no talking to me because I am thought’s prisoner. The spark has been knocked right out of me, as it always is when it’s the operation of the Demiurgic Principle that we’re talking about.
Whenever thought describes the world to us it does so in a completely un-nuanced way and as a result we fall head-first into the prison of literal or concrete thinking. We cannot in any way ‘question the reality’ that we’ve been given by thought; rather than ‘us questioning it’, it determines us… The boot is firmly on the other foot, in other words. The curtain has come down and so instead of us perceiving reality (instead of us being sensitive to the nuances of reality) our environment (which is now the ‘conditioned’ or ‘thought-created’ environment) ‘tells us what to perceive’, just as David Bohm says. Thought tells us that we are free, and so we automatically believe it, just as we automatically believe it in all other matters .A determinate or conditioned environment will always tell us what we are to perceive, what we are to think about and how we are to feel about what we perceive or think. Thought provides us with a total script for living, in other words…
Thought tells us everything but — rather than us seeing that thought is telling us everything (because there isn’t the space for that perception) — we believe that this is ‘just the way things are’. We believe that this is the way things are and the most eloquent, charismatic and talented speaker in the world could not convince us otherwise, not if they were to talk to us all night and day. How can one explain the ‘non-concrete’ to a concrete thinker, after all? The world itself (unlike the productions of thought) is nuanced and the only way to perceive it therefore is in a similarly nuanced or ironical way. Nothing is what it seems and so it is not possible to jump to any conclusions. It’s impossible to know whether we should feel good or bad, happy or sad about anything, and this is itself the ‘wonderment’ that we started out by talking about. Having this sense of wonderment is the very same thing as ‘being free’ therefore, and this is precisely what is denied us in the Domain of the Known, which is the Realm of Cause and Effect…