The Purely Conceptual World
We have been given a ‘purely conceptual world’ to live in. Because it is a world that is ‘purely conceptual’ this means that there is nothing at all in it. A purely conceptual world is a world with absolutely nothing in it and yet that’s all we are being given. It’s not worth sitting around and waiting hopefully for ‘something else’ to come out of this world because nothing is going to come out of it no matter how long we might wait! It is absolutely the case that we have been given a purely conceptual world to live in and it is also absolutely the case that we are sitting around waiting for something good to come out of it even though nothing good ever can. This is exactly our situation. We go through life thinking that we’re up against this problem and that problem and that we have got this issue and that issue to contend with, and in a (subjective) way this may indeed be said to be true. The underlying problem however — the problem that we can’t ever see — is that we’re stuck in a purely conceptual reality.
To talk about ‘a conceptual reality’ is of course an oxymoron — it can be the one way or it can be the other but it can’t be both. We have reality or we can have the concept of it but we can’t have both because the two things are as far apart as any two things ever can be. The conceptual reality is like the reality of a film set that, from a certain angle, looks like the real thing, but which can’t ever be investigated from any other angles without it being instantly revealed for what it is. The whole point is not to investigate it from other angles. ‘Life in the conceptual reality’ means making very sure indeed that we only ever do look at things from the proper prescribed angle therefore. If we look at it any other way then the illusion is abruptly shattered; the ‘magic’ that keeps the film real is lost and then we are confronted with the distinctly un-magical nature of the situation.
Our allegiance is always to the reality that is being created by the rational mind rather than anything else and we show our allegiance by feeling cheerful when our thoughts indicate that we should be cheerful and being downbeat and morose when they indicate that this is the appropriate reaction. If I think that I’m doing well then my mood improves, and if my thoughts tell me that my prospects are poor then my mood is correspondingly down in my boots. Such is our loyalty to thought that we were put ourselves through all this on a daily basis. We will suffer all sorts of indignities rather than doubt that what our thoughts are telling us about the world.
So if our loyalty to thought causes us to make fools of ourselves by becoming elated or depressed at the drop of a hat, bobbing up and down meaninglessly like corks floating in a choppy sea, then our loyalty to the conceptual mind causes us to devote our attention to a superficial pseudo-reality that has nothing interesting about it at all. So on the one hand we’re making a big song and dance about nothing at all the whole time, and allowing ourselves to be serially transfixed by banalities (when we could be paying attention to something that was genuinely interesting instead, i.e. the real world as opposed to the theatrical one) and on the other hand we are obliged to be very rigid and controlling with our perceptions in case we discover that the drama which is keeping us entertained (or ‘transfixed’) is nothing more than a hollow sham.
When we tease these two ingredients apart — the inherent dullness of the pseudo-world that we are compelled to believe in and the (usually) invisible anxiety that is attendant upon the maintenance of this fragile artificial world view — we can see something very significant, we can see two elements of depression and anxiety clearly revealed. What else is depression other than the discovery (the unwilling discovery) that the life which we have placed so much stock in (the life which we have been encouraged to place so much stock in) is utterly devoid of any worth or meaning, and that the ‘sense of self’ which has been constructed in relation to this artificial life is fake and lacking in any genuine sincerity or integrity? And what is anxiety apart from this invented — but all too believable — need to make something work that is never going to work?
Our encultured response to depression is to say that it is some kind of mechanical defect and that the life which we construct in relation to the ‘purely conceptual world’ which we have been provided with is authentic and meaningful and interesting and all the rest of it. That this is the case is not up for negotiation; that’s not on the table at all, and so any intimation — no matter how convincing it might be to the individual concerned — is inevitably going to be dismissed out of hand. The possibility of not dismissing it out of hand is something that never even crosses our threshold of consciousness. It never makes it that far, it’s shot down without any further ado, and so the message that the condition is screaming so loudly is roundly ignored by everyone concerned — everyone apart from the sufferer themselves, that is (who can’t really ignore it). This denial of the very obvious message behind depression suits the rest of us very well therefore but it doesn’t help the sufferer at all. Far from helping them, denying the reality of what they are feeling makes their suffering even worse — it is made worse because we — in our professional cleverness — have arrogantly denied the meaning of their most intimate personal experience. This experience — far from being pathological in nature — is actually profoundly healthy and this is the possibility we can never allow for.
In the case of anxiety our response is exactly the same. We are receiving a message against our will, we are receiving a message but we are fighting against it every step of the way — we are fighting against it for all we’re worth because it is so very inimitable to us. What the anxiety is telling us — in no uncertain terms — is that the endeavour which we are engaged in is untenable, that it is just not going to work out for us. It’s not going to work out for us because it is all taking place on a false basis; everything is always taking place on a false premise in the purely conceptual world because it is in the nature of concepts to be false. It’s a false basis because ‘the concept of me’ is trying to achieve ‘the concept of something else’; ‘the concept of who I am’ is trying (inevitably) to achieve some goal or other and goals are concepts just as anything else in the PCW is!
Anxiety is the same story as depression because the message is so strong, and because it hits us on such a deep level that we just can’t override it, or ‘conveniently reinterpret it’ as everyone else can. We feel it in our bones, so to speak. We feel it on a level that is deeper and more profound than the level of our thinking and so even though thought has been our master up to this point, it has finally being trumped stop trumped by reality (albeit a reality that we don’t like). It can’t stand up to our deeper intuition, even though it tries its hardest to do so. Thought isn’t really the master after all — it only pretends to be. Wisdom comes about as a result of suffering, Aeschylus says. Aeschylus also says that wisdom comes about ‘against our will’:
He who learns must suffer. And even in our sleep pain that cannot forget falls drop by drop upon the heart, and in our own despair, against our will, comes wisdom to us by the awful grace of God.
Naturally it comes about against our will — what we are learning undermines everything we believe in, after all; it undermines everything we have invested ourselves in so deeply. If only we are able to understand what Aeschylus is talking about here deeply the process that we are undergoing would be so much less punishing for us. If we were able to have some insight into this timeless truth that would make such a profound difference to our experience, even though the process would continue just the same.
If we were supported in this crucial understanding (which could only happen if we as a culture were more psychologically aware, or even psychologically aware at all) we would have a far better chance of having this insight ourselves and then as a result of this insight we would still be mechanically struggling against the awareness that it brings us but we would be at peace with our own struggling. We would be ‘at peace with our own struggling’ (as strange as this might sound) because we would understand it but the problem is that the social milieu within which we are enfolded in is profoundly dismissive or denying of any such insight. We cannot after all — as we have already said — countenance for a second the suggestion that the PCW is devoid of any worth or meaning, or any actual reality. We couldn’t get our head around this suggestion even if we tried — that isn’t a thought that we are able to have.
Suppose that I do have the thought that ‘all my thoughts are devoid of substance’ — if I were to entertain this thought (the thought that ‘my thoughts are hollow’) then I would be ‘trusting my mental process in order to discount that very same mental process’ since ‘my thoughts are devoid of substance’ is itself a thought. The thinking mind never really sees through itself, even if it does play at it. When we talk about ‘the hollowness of the PCW’ we are of course talking about the hollowness of thought and so this ‘blankness’ or ‘emptiness’ is something that can never be known about on the basis of the PCW. We can talk about it, as we just have done, we can intellectually play about with the idea quite easily, but it’s a sham — not something that is actually helpful. It is very likely to be ‘helpful in reverse way’ because the more we intellectually play about the concept the more we become trapped in the intellect that is doing the ‘playing about’! We can as a culture field any number of intellectual heavyweights capable of discussing the hollowness of thought but that’s not going to help anyone, least of all them.
What does help is to focus solidly on two points:  that society provides us with a purely conceptual world to live in, a world that we are almost incapable of ever questioning, and  that the invisible hollowness that is inherent in the PCW ultimately manifests itself as neurotic suffering (which is displaced suffering, suffering which we cannot see for what it is, suffering the origin of which is entirely obscure to us. As a culture, we see ourselves as being very resourceful, very practical, and very capable; we also see ourselves as having an unprecedented amount of knowledge at our fingertips — more knowledge than human beings have ever had available to them throughout the whole course of our history. That is unquestionably how we see ourselves. The thing about this however is that it is all a joke if we can’t see that being adapted to a purely conceptual world renders our lives completely sterile, completely meaningless, completely futile, and that this is the ‘Soul Sickness’ that Jung warned about over 80 years ago now:
Deviation from the truths of the blood begets neurotic restlessness, and we have had about enough of that these days. Restlessness begets meaninglessness, and the lack of meaning in life is a soul-sickness whose full extent and full import our age has not as yet begun to comprehend.
As Jordan Peterson says, psychologists these days are strongly discouraged from mentioning Jung’s name in academic circles; to do so would be the kiss of death because everyone would then realise that you are ‘soft in the head’, so to speak (which is to say, not appropriately rigorous and therefore scientific enough in your comportment). No one would ever take anything you say seriously again after this fatal faux pas. No one would ever heed your words ever again. This fact in itself tells us everything we need to know about contemporary psychology! By trying so hard to be ‘scientific’ (whatever we might imagine that to mean) we have departed from our subject. Modern psychology is — at best — a source of confusion. It is a source of confusion because it traps us even more in the purely conceptual world under the pretext of somehow ‘illuminating’ us! Rational ‘therapy’ does the very same thing — under the guise of ‘freeing’ us from our thought-created suffering it compounds that suffering further. All rational therapies do this — there is no way that they can’t, of course…