Switching Into Machine Mode

Nick Williams
8 min readNov 19, 2023
Image — wallpapercave.com

Any one of us can turn into a machine at the drop of a hat, and this can happen at any time. It can happen quite without warning — one moment you’re human being, the next you’re a mechanoid, a ‘mechanical analogue of a human’ and that’s all. Every time we try to fulfil our agenda, every time we work towards a goal, we’re in Machine Mode. How could we not be? We are fulfilling all the necessary criteria for being a machine and so we are machines — we are machines through and through.

The criterion for being a machine is very simple — being a machine is very far from being a mysterious or complex thing. To make the grade as a machine we have to have an idea or view of the world and then — following on from this — it is necessary that we never go back on ourselves, that we never revisit our original assumptions, that we never take in any new information. This is the key point — machines have a basic way of looking at things that can never be changed. There is no such thing as ‘taking in new information’ — there is only ever the one basic way of relating to the world.

‘Reality is always plural and mutable’, says Robert Anton Wilson, but for a machine reality both single and completely immutable! If we can talk in terms of ‘how a machine sees the world’ then the key point to make here is that it accepts whatever way of seeing things that it has been initially provided with and it cannot ever question this way. The machine is a function of the particular viewpoint that gives rise to it and so of course it can’t question that VP.

Everything proceeds from the basis of what has been given — there is no ‘going back’, only ‘going forward’. There’s no reflection, only the mechanical acting-out of assumptions. In Jung’s terms, rather than ‘looking within’, we ‘look without’ and we look without on the basis of our internal biases. This is of course obvious enough when we’re talking about regular machines — no one wants a toaster that gets all philosophical and starts questioning its core directives. What’s the use in a machine like this?

Toasters can’t question their core directives of course — that sort of flexibility is beyond them. We could say that the necessary flexibility to reflect on itself in a philosophical way hasn’t been built into toasters, but this would be a misleading statement since the ability to reflect philosophically can’t be built into anything we make. This capacity simply can’t be formalized — not in a million years can it be formalized! We don’t know how to engineer that capacity and the reason we don’t know is because there’s actually no way to create a mechanism or logical pathway for ‘radical self-questioning’ — there is no formula for this, no clever algorithm that can help us here.

If a machine did have the capacity to reflect upon its own existence then it would be at this precise point that it would have stopped being a machine. There is however no such thing as ‘a set of instructions that can tell a machine how not to be a machine’ — that would be a contradiction in terms, that would be a perfect paradox! If a machine is (as we have said) ‘that which has to be instructed in everything it does’, then how on earth can we instruct a machine not to be a machine?

What we’re saying here therefore is that the machine is in essence a directed process, and the thing about a directed process is that we can’t direct it to be undirected. A directed process is not just ‘nothing without its directions’, it IS its directions. We could also rephrase this to say that a directed process is its own description (since it is never ever going to be any more then what it is formally described as being). We’re boxed in by our own abstract thinking process — we’re ‘trapped in the box’ and so we can’t see that the box isn’t real.

Machines don’t do ‘Reflect Mode’ — there is a central impossibility involved here and what this comes down to is the impossibility of ‘letting go’ on purpose. If we are to reflect on our position then it is necessary for us to first let go of all of our current thinking on our situation, all of the ideas that we have had about it up to this point — that’s what ‘being reflective’ means. We can’t question our view of things until we let go completely of that view, until we dispense with it entirely, without any reservations. As long as we’re still hoping to get things to happen on our present basis then we aren’t reflecting; on the contrary, we’re ‘pushing ahead with the plan’ — we’re pushing ahead with the plan because we don’t want to let go.

Reflecting on our situation is a perfectly natural process that happens as a part of life, without the need for anyone to make a big deal out of it. To live is to reflect, it’s only when we’re ‘dead’ (mentally rather than physiologically speaking) that we don’t reflect on things — that’s Plato’s ‘unexamined life’ right there! When we are mentally dead — so to speak — then we always take the reality thatwe’re being presented with by our thoughts as being absolutely unquestionable. We’re a slave to whatever ideas come floating into our heads! From the point of view of logic however ‘letting go’ is a very big deal indeed — it’s so much of a big deal that when we’re operating on the basis of logic that we just can’t go ahead with it. We can think about letting go for sure (we can think about it all day long), but we can’t ever do it. Thought simply can’t let go of itself, no matter what extreme efforts it may make.

Letting go of our tried and trusted description of the world is the same thing as ‘letting go of our instructions as to how to operate in that world’ (or ‘how to be in the world’). As we’ve just said, a machine can’t let go of its instructions as to ‘how to operate on the world’ — if it did that then it would need to be instructed in how to go about this task, which would trap us in an infinite regression. We can look at this the other way too and say that a system of logic (i.e., the thinking mind) can never let go of its ‘taken for granted picture of the world’ because it would then have no way of calculating what will happen next and unless the thinking mind can foresee the possible results of an actions it can’t perform that action. It can’t be random — everything it does is ‘for a reason’, everything it does comes out of a map or theory of the world.

The thinking mind can’t ‘step into the unknown’ in other words, it can only ‘step into the known’! We wouldn’t know how to step into the unknown — we only know how to ‘enact the known’ and enacting the known doesn’t take us beyond the known, obviously enough. Thought can take a calculated risk for sure, but a calculated risk is a very different beast from the radical risk of letting go of our tried and trusted view of the world. We can’t calculate the risk here because it is our basis for making calculations that we’re letting go of…

In summary, logic can’t take the radical risk of ‘letting go of itself’, and this is the same thing as saying there is no way that logic can give rise to a random number, which is a basic mathematical principle. The definition of a random number is that it is ‘a number that hasn’t been arrived at via some sort of logical procedure’. All logic can ever do is perpetuate or promote or extend itself therefore — it functions exactly like a virus in this respect and this is something we never stop to consider. We don’t see logic as an invasive virus that would subsume the whole world if it could.

We can define what it means to be a machine by talking about what it can’t do therefore and what it can’t do — as we keep on saying — is let go of itself. It can never cease perpetuating itself, extending itself, promoting itself, etc. It can never stop being ‘blindly aggressive’. This is the crucial thing to understand about logic (or about mechanical systems) and if we now turn our attention to the subject of psychology this is the very same principle that governs our existence in the ‘unconscious realm’, which is the Realm of Everyday Life. What we’re looking at here is of course the everyday ego or self-concept.

We started off this discussion by saying that we automatically switch over into Mechanical Mode every time we start acting on behalf of an agenda, every time we start orientating ourselves towards a goal, but this makes it sound as if it would be a relatively easy thing not to have an agenda, not to have a goal in mind, and this isn’t the case at all. As it turns out, to be in the world without having some sort of agenda or slant (whether we are aware of that agenda / slant or not) is virtually impossible. That would be coming across an atom of monatomic oxygen (O1) floating around freely in the atmosphere — it is possible but hugely improbable. Just so long as we identify with the Self-Concept then we have to have an agenda and we’re almost always identified with the SC. That’s the default mode. The idea of not being this or that ‘self’ is well-nigh incomprehensible to us and not only is it ‘incomprehensible’, it’s also something that we have absolutely zero interest in. If everything we do is on behalf of the mechanical reflex which we call ‘the self’ then clearly we’re not going to be interested in going beyond it!

In short, the Self-Concept IS its own agenda — it’s a ‘tautological’ (or ‘self-booting’) entity. This tautology is what the self always comes down to. The agenda in question — we might say — is to ‘seek the advantage in every situation’ no matter how that advantage might be construed. Seeking the advantage (or ‘chasing the goal’) is actually what creates the extrinsic self since if there is an agenda (or if there is a plan) on the table then we automatically draw the conclusion that there must be someone there who stands to benefit from it. This is the automatic inference. If there is a game then there must be such a thing as the ‘player of that game’, in other words. Our hidden agenda (i.e., the agenda that lies behind all our overt agendas) is to create the impression that there is someone there (a real, bone fide ‘agent’ or ‘entity’) who stands either to gain or lose depending upon whether the agenda is met or not. The ‘goal behind the goal’ is to ‘solidity the illusion of ego’, therefore; the reason for us ‘having to have an agenda all the time’ is because that way we get believe that there is actually someone there to benefit from it. That’s the game we’re playing here…