The Opacity Of Thought

Nick Williams
7 min readMay 4, 2024
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It’s perfectly easy to understand how the thinking mind works — we might imagine that thought is awfully complex and hard to fathom and all the rest of it but it isn’t — all we need to say about thought is that it’s essentially a machine that can’t turn itself off! We could ask what it’s a machine for but that would be missing the point; thought is a machine and that tells us all we need to know about it. Machines do ‘machine-stuff’ and there isn’t anything more interesting to it than this — machines follow rules, they do what they are supposed to do, in other words. A machine that doesn’t follow rules isn’t a machine.

If we wanted to say what the machine which is the thinking mind is for we could say that it’s for tiling; we could say that the thinking mind is ‘a machine for tiling over the world’. Thought tiles over everything it comes across, without exception. It only does one job, but it does it with extreme efficiency! The ‘end point’ of this process — we might imagine — would be when everything has been tiled over; this would seem like a good time for the machine to terminate the task. It doesn’t work out like this however because ‘tiling over reality’ is a job that can’t ever be finished. Even if we did get to the point where everything has been successfully tiled over (leaving not even a single square inch that hasn’t been covered) we would still see room ‘for improvement’ — the TM is a perfectionist and for a perfectionist (as we all know) nothing is ever perfect enough. ‘Tiling over the world’ is a job that can’t ever be finished and that’s why the thinking mind never switches itself off — because it never truly reaches its goal. Reality has no end and so thought’s task (which is the task of ‘closing reality down’) never concludes.

The ‘tiles’ that the tiling machine is busy laying down all the time are of course our thoughts and the thing about thoughts is that they are opaque — we can’t see through them. When the world has been tiled over then all we can see are the tiles, therefore; once the world has been thought about then it can no longer be seen. This is what Jean Baudrillard is getting at when he talks about the Murder of the Real. Our thoughts are opaque simply because we can’t see past them. Our attention is captured by them — once we assign something a category then it stays in that category. Once we have identified some element of our environment is being ‘this, that or the other’ then that identification sticks;the tile has a specific, exclusive meaning (which is to say, it doesn’t mean anything else other than what it says it means) and this is the reason why it doesn’t lead onto anything else.

We could also approach this matter — the matter of the ‘opacity of thought’ — by saying that everything every thought is a conclusion, that every thought is a terminal destination. The aim of the thinking process is to pin meanings down, to replace ‘uncertainty’ with ‘certainty’. Certainty means mutual exclusivity — it means that it is ‘this but not that’, or ‘this but not anything else’. This is the famous Law of the Excluded Middle. Instead of talking about opacity we could speak in terms of ‘literal meanings’; when we use thoughts then we use them literally — a direct and unvarying correspondence is assumed between thought and thing. The ‘thought’ then becomes as good as the ‘thing’ — it becomes a legitimate substitute.

When a direct unvarying correspondence is assumed between the thought and the thing then ‘the thought is the thing’. The thought is the thing and so we no longer need to worry about the thing — we can deal exclusively with the thought! We might as well if the two are equivalent. Although we don’t realise it (because we don’t have the means of realising it) we have ‘collapsed the universe’ by doing this and collapsing the universe (needless to say) is a pretty big deal. To take things literally is to collapse reality and to be literal-minded is to be deluded. The symbol makes what is being symbolised redundant, as Jean Baudrillard tells us, and when we make what is being symbolized ‘redundant’ (when we ‘replace the meal with the menu’) then this spells trouble. It spells big trouble. The reason thought collapses reality is because it models it in a literal way and reality isn’t literal — it isn’t ‘meant’ to be literal, it couldn’t ever be literal. That’s just our own projection…

This of course is a matter of great consternation for us — if the material universe isn’t literally true then what is? How can reality not be a literal thing? For us the terms ‘real’ and ‘literal’ are interchangeable terms; metaphors and allusions are fanciful, we say, whilst the real world is down-to-earth and no nonsense, like a solid punch to the head. The world that is made up of our literal descriptions might be ‘down-to-earth and no nonsense’ (maybe) but the world itself is nothing of the sort; the world itself is a big question mark, a total enigma. It’s an enigma because it doesn’t ever ‘come to an end’, meaning-wise. There are no boundaries as far as the real world is concerned — we can’t come to any conclusions about it, we can’t put it in a convenient box. We can’t point a finger at it and ‘say what it is’; we can’t do this because — as we’ve said — reality isn’t literally anything. ‘Is’ is the wrong word to use when we’re talking about reality — there is no is in reality.

The World of our Literal Descriptions is opaque, which means that it doesn’t go anywhere! We could ask where there is to go since we don’t really want our descriptions to go anywhere apart from where they already are, but the point we’re making here is that there’s everywhere to go. There are no limits. There’s nowhere to go from the standpoint of our literal statements about the world because wherever we go on this basis is always will always bring us straight back to our starting off point and this is why we say that literal signifiers are opaque- ‘all roads lead to Rome’, as it is said. From an alchemical standpoint, we can say that the principle here is the Principle of Coagulation (the other great principle in alchemy being the Principle of Dissolution, which is where all opacity is lost and we are left with no firm ground to walk upon).

In the world that is made up of our literal descriptions ‘a thing is equal to itself’. The thing is always ‘equal to itself’ and this is what brings about the collapse, this is what brings about the coagulation. This is the ‘short circuit in reality’. Of course things are what they are, we say. Of course the thing ‘is what it is’, what else would it be? A banana is a banana, a teapot is a teapot, a multi-story carpark is a multi-story carpark, and so on; it is because things definitely are what they are without any exceptions to this rule that we don’t end up getting totally confused all the time, we might say. This is tautological reasoning, however; it doesn’t mean a damn thing, in other words! From the standpoint of the thinking mind this tautological reasoning seems as solid as a rock, we can’t see anything wrong with it at all. What’s really happening here however is that we’re in a ‘stagnant situation’; we’re in that dead-end situation where all we ever come across are ‘our own assumptions reflected right back at us in a neat little self-referential loop’.

What we’re talking about here (we might say) is the Principle of Identity. This is a very straightforward principle and it’s based on the rules which says that ‘a thing always has to be equal to itself’ (or that ‘a statement must always agree with itself’). We have made up this rule ourselves however — reality itself (which is what all things or thoughts tokenize) is NOT subject to any such rule. There are no rules for reality — there’s no ‘algorithm’, no ‘fact-checking’, no ‘standards’, no one ‘regulating things from behind the scenes’. Instead of talking about reality we could equally well speak in terms of space (which is perhaps a better word to use inasmuch as it conveys a sense of openness). We can in this case say that the corresponding principle associated with space is the Principle (or law) of Non-Identity.

The Law of Non-Identity is a paradoxical law — it is a paradoxical law because it states that ‘a thing isn’t (and can’t be) equal to itself’, because it states that ‘a thing being equal to itself is a perfect impossibility’. One cannot step into the same river twice, after all — nothing ‘stays the same’, not under any circumstances. ‘Staying the same’ is the one thing that can never happen. There is no ‘same — there is nothing outside of ‘the Whole’ for it to be the same as. Comparison-making is an illegitimate act, an absurd act, a totally meaningless act…

The Principle of Identity holds good for the Mind-Created Virtual Reality, for the static world that we have made with our literal descriptions. When it’s space that we’re talking about however then it’s the Principle of Non-identity that we’re looking at. This is the principle that we don’t ever hear about, the principle which states that ‘a thing can’t EVER be equal to itself’, which is the Law of Flux…