Shrunken Worlds

Nick Williams
11 min readApr 2, 2024
Image credit — Mickey Mouse Pop Art Graffiti 2. Tony Rubino. On

There are only the two things in life, we could say — there is the ‘unobserved reality’ (which is pure randomness, pure spontaneity), and there is the observed reality, the known reality, which is the reality that has been established via our measurements (or — as we could also say — via our thoughts, via our judgements), and of these ‘two things’ only the first one is real.

When we ‘establish a reality’ by using our measurements of the world (or our thoughts about the world, which comes to the same thing) then we can never depart from the particular set of ratios (or proportionalities) that we started off with. This ‘set of proportionalities’ (or ‘set of rules’) never changes, no matter what else might seem to be happening — the essential pattern is preserved throughout the proceedings, even though this ‘logical continuity’ may not be at all obvious to us. Everything that happens from this point on constitutes an unbroken logical continuum (and anything that isn’t the continuum equals ‘an error’).

Whichever viewpoint or angle we randomly start off from gets to ‘rule the roost’, in other words — it gets to be ‘the way things are’, ‘the way things have to be’, which is just another way of saying that we get ‘trapped in our own viewpoint’. We get trapped in the ‘Collapsed Reality’ because we can no longer see beyond it, because we’re not able to see that this isn’t the whole picture. In Gnostic terms, we ‘fall under the power of the demiurge’. The demiurge is a jealous god, we could say — just like Jehovah in the Old Testament. The False Creator (i.e., ‘the ruler’) is a jealous and vengeful god and he won’t tolerate any system other than the one he himself has created. This could be said to be a core ‘psychological principle’ on the one hand, but it is also the Great Myth, a myth which unfolds itself anew each day for each person. Contending with the dynamic that exists between restriction and liberation is what life is all about, and it is complicated by the fact that — in everyday life — we are seeing everything backwards. We are seeing everything backwards and we don’t know it…

As modern-day rational psychologists we naturally like to feel that we are being properly (which is to say, scientifically) objective about things. We like to feel that we’re ‘on the outside looking in’; we like to feel, in other words, that we are not part of what is being studied, that we’re separate from it, that we’ve got a special ‘platform’ to view things from. As rational psychologists, we don’t trust what transpires on the ‘inside’ of ourselves — anything from the ‘inside’ will be disqualified immediately as being subjective. What we can’t understand however — when we’re coming from the rational perspective — is that subjectivity is all there is. The truth of the matter is that if we want some so-called ‘objectivity’ then we have to invent it ourselves, we have to create a special situation in which ‘objectivity’ (which is to say, ‘looking at things from the outside’)’is actually a perfectly realistic proposition, rather than being the purest moonshine. The problem we face is that there is no outside, not anywhere, not ever. Boundaries are a device belonging to thought, not reality — there is no ‘outside’ and so we have to assume one, we have to project one. We assume (or project) an ‘outside’ to generate a yardstick to tell us what’s real and what’s not. We can use this assumed but non-existent ‘outside’ as a basis to create the whole world for ourselves, therefore; a world in which we can be objective to our heart’s content, a world in which we can ‘know stuff for sure’. This is the Positive World, and the positive world (which is ‘a projection’) is the only world we know.

To ‘assume an outside’ is to assume a legitimate limit to our investigations, a limit beyond which we are justified in not caring, a limit beyond which we don’t have to take any notice. The outside isn’t something separate from us, or independent from us, therefore; it’s simply a ‘cut-off point’, it’s the point at which we ourselves have decided we won’t look beyond. We don’t take responsibility for this decision however, the whole point of the exercises that we don’t take responsibility for it. The manoeuvre wouldn’t work otherwise, it absolutely wouldn’t work. If we were to randomly draw a line in the sand and say, “This is the limit right there — this is the limit and I’m never going to look beyond it…” we would of course know that it isn’t really a limit, we’d know damn well that there’s plenty of stuff on the other side of our meaningless ‘line in the sand’ and this awareness would mean that we wouldn’t be able to draw any ‘hard and fast conclusions’ in the basis of what does exist on the inside of our artificial bubble. We wouldn’t be able to be literal (or concrete) about things since we would know that all of our knowledge was provisional. The fact that we are able to be ‘literal about things’ shows, therefore, that there is a cut-off point there that we don’t have any awareness of. We’re living in a ‘shrunken universe’, in other words — a shrunken universe that we don’t know to be shrunken.

A literal world is a shrunken world, we might say, and what shrinks it is ‘unavailable information which we don’t know anything about’ (or ‘information the unavailability of which we are unaware’) and this is simply a long-winded way of talking about entropy. Without entropy there could be no Positive World, no ‘Domain of the Known’. Inasmuch as it is important for us to hang onto this world (or inasmuch as we are terrified of finding out that all lines that have been drawn in the sand are artificial) we have to make sure to protect this ‘ignorance the existence of which we are ignorant’. This is a tricky thing of course, since the idea of protecting something without knowing that we are doing so is unavoidably problematic — how do we even go about this, after all? How are we to wangle this? It becomes necessary for us to be ‘divided against ourselves’ so that we can do stuff without knowing that we are, and we do this by created a false level of (theatrical) motivation which serves to distract ourselves from what we’re really doing. We solve the problem of ‘how to not know what we ourselves are doing’ by becoming ‘systematically insincere’, in other words…

We can argue therefore that what we may call the ‘unconscious life’ is the type of life that comes into being as a result of us protecting our ignorance without us: [1] admitting that there is any ignorance there, and [2] admitting that we are hard at work protecting it on a constant basis. Once we see this then an awful lot of frustrating things about society, about our collective way of life, immediately becomes clear! When — on the other hand — we find the grace to become ‘aware of our limitations’ (i.e., when we become aware that what we believe to be true only seems true because it suits us that it should) then our perceived reality starts to ‘unshrink’ — it expands (as they used to say in the sixties), but the price of this expansion of the space around us is that we can no longer ‘know stuff for sure’. We are obliged to give up our concrete way of thinking, to let go of our ‘literal modality’ of apprehending phenomena. All bets are off. We can therefore — following Plato — with our hand on our heart, say that ‘we know that we don’t know’. Or as James Carse puts it — ‘To be aware of our horizons is to live in wonder’.

This brings us to the very heart of matter — if to be aware of our horizons is to ‘live in wonder’ then, if we don’t want to live in this way then clearly the thing to do (as we said a minute ago) is to not be aware of our horizons. The thing to do is to say that there is ‘nothing beyond the limit which we ourselves have put in place’. Seeing that the world is infinitely bigger than we pigheadedly insist on saying that it is becomes ‘the thing to avoid at all costs’. It doesn’t of course seem to make sense that we would want to avoid ‘having a sense of wonder about existence’; this is something we don’t appreciate straightaway — we don’t appreciate that wonder is the ‘flip side of fear’. When we do see this however then it looks so obvious — ‘wonder’ and ‘fear’ are the only two possibilities open to us when we come across a reality that is bigger than we are (i.e., when we come across a reality that is bigger than our idea or theory of it). The moment we become aware that we’re in a world that is too big for us to grasp, a world that goes beyond all our provisional understanding of it, we will go one of two possible ways — one way is to react with fear and try frantically to close everything down again, and the other way is for us to enter into the state of wonderment. Seeing to our surprise that the world is ‘bigger than we thought it was’ is of course the very quintessence of wonder — to realise that we are in a universe that is bigger than our ability to understand it (and yet not to feel threatened by this) is to be in a state of wonderment.

The question that we might want to ask then is of course “Why do we end up going down ‘the road of fear’ rather than ‘the road of wonder’? Why should finding out that ‘the world is bigger than our conception of it’ affect us in two such very difficult different ways?” The answer to this question is plain enough once we see it (as is often the case) — to learn that the world is bigger than our idea of it is ‘great one way, and not so great the other’! It’s great if we’re able to walk away from our idea of ourselves, if we find that we’re able to take the ontological risk of letting go of this idea, and it’s not great if we find out that we can’t. If we can’t find it within ourselves to take the ‘radical risk of existence’ then we’re in for a very hard time. This has absolutely nothing to do with ‘making the right choice’, as we so love to say. ‘Letting go of the known’ has nothing to do with what we choose or decide — there’s no such thing as ‘choosing to let go’ since choosing is itself is a form of holding on we’re ‘holding onto control’, obviously. Moving on from the Known World doesn’t come out of any intention that we might have to do so since intentions are all about ‘the Known World’. Moving on can’t be ‘a plan’, it can’t be ‘a goal that we can reasonably expect to achieve’. Or — as we could also say — ‘letting go’ can’t be an idea…

What is being ‘let go of’ is our attachment to living in a world that we know, a world that makes sense to us, a logically consistent and predictable world, etc., and this letting go constitutes the ‘gate’ that we either pass through, or don’t. There is something in us, a core part, a part which is spontaneous and free, which hasn’t been conditioned of ‘tamed’ and which is more than happy to let go of the known world — it’s delighted to do so, in fact. ‘Letting go of the known’ is the Great Adventure, after all — it’s what we’re all born for, it’s what it’s all about. Along with this free or spontaneous core however there is something else, there is the conservative element, which is the part of us that is fundamentally opposed to losing the security of the known, the part of us that always clings on to the very last. On. The ultimate manifestation of this aspect of us is Joseph Campbell’s The Tyrant Holdfast — this unpleasant personage being a symbol for the restrictive principle that ‘acts against life whilst all the while claiming to be working for it’. So — in keeping with the message of the Native American ‘Two Wolves story’ — we can say that whether we react with fear or respond with wonder depends entirely upon the balance between these two principles.

If we have tended to play the part of Tyrant Holdfast in life then fear will always be the result when we encounter reality; fear is going to be the result because what we’re faced with here is the very thing that we are most against (or most afraid of), which is ‘letting go of stuff’ or ‘giving stuff away’. ‘Letting go’ tends to go against the grain for the Tyrant Holdfast, obviously. If — on the other hand — we have heeded what Joseph Campbell has referred to as the Call to Adventure — then ‘letting go of what is safe and reliable’ isn’t something that we are going to object to. Letting go of the safe and the reliable is ‘the adventure’. Letting go’ is what life is all about — life is a movement and movement can only happen when we let go…

We were saying back at the start of this discussion that there are only these two things in life: [1] The unobserved (and therefore un-collapsed) reality, which has no relationship or relevance whatsoever to any logical viewpoint we may take, and [2] The Observed Reality (the reality which has been measured or quantified in accordance with a ‘taken-for-granted’ standard), only this isn’t a reality ‘in its own right’ — despite the fact that we take it as being so — but only a projection (or ‘linear extrapolation’) of the viewpoint that we started off with. This is the ‘closed-down world’ that comes into being as a result of fear; it is the world which is nothing more than ‘our own unrecognized face reflected back at us’, the world which is made up of the ‘dead echo of our original set of assumptions coming right back at us every time. We bring about this ‘echo’ (just like someone shouting in a cave) every time we deliberately ‘do’ something, every time we ‘think’ something. Purposeful doing is ‘the reiteration of the old’, just as rational thinking is, and both are facilitated by psychological entropy, both are facilitated by ‘us not being able to see that the world is infinitely more expansive than we take it to be’.

We create the ego identity (or sense of self) by ‘holding onto what we falsely imagine we already know’, by ‘never questioning our position’. We create the self — therefore — by making sure that we ‘never look at the world in a way that is different from the way we always look at it’. This static mind-created sense of self is not only fundamentally separate from the original (Open) reality, but also opposed to it. We have been set against the original reality as the result of our manoeuvre and this means that we are now committed to a situation of ongoing conflict. It means — in other words — that we are obliged to embrace the type of (conditioned) existence in which we are ‘opposed to the truth’. In this mode, we find ourselves to be in opposition to life itself…