The Rational Module

Nick Williams
8 min readOct 17, 2022

Thought is like a kind of ‘extraneous module’ (or ‘optional add-on’) that interprets all the incoming information for us in a very particular way; we can picture it as a kind of ‘implanted microchip’ or ‘information-processing box’ that everything gets routed through. It mediates between us and the real world. What this information-processing module shows us isn’t true, it’s only an interpretation, but that’s perfectly okay — just as long as we remember that it is only an interpretation then there’s absolutely no problem. When we forget this key point however then it is problem after problem after problem, which we do our best to solve, and to some extent we can potentially do very well at this, we can succeed at making some inroad into the problems and feel confident on this account. It’s no exaggeration to say we generally see this as being what life is all about. The point of life, when seen this way, is to overcome all obstacles and emerge victorious on the other side. The only other possibility is to be defeated by life, and we naturally see this as being an unmitigated disaster. There’s no upside to that at all. This then is the conventional view of things, which we may or may not admit to.

This way of looking at things tends to sound awfully crude and we may prefer on this account to believe that we don’t subscribe to it, but — crude or not — this is our ‘default belief’ about life, that we have to triumph over adversity rather than let ourselves be defeated by it. If we are defined by our successes in a desirable way then defeat defines us in a completely unacceptable way. This remarkably unnuanced outlook rises to the surface very clearly when it comes to the subject of mental health issues because we’re always talking about beating depression and conquering low self-esteem and so on and our response to depression or anxiety or low self-esteem is almost invariably to regard these states of being as something we have to win out over. To not win out is — as we have just said — an unthinkable state of affairs.

The reason we can make the assertion that forgetting that we don’t live in reality as it is in itself (but only in the pre-formatted spin or systematically distorted version thereof which is the output of the rational module that filters incoming information for us) is because the reality construct that we are provided with is — like all constructs — a camouflaged polarity. Anything that has been made, anything that has been produced or put together by thought, is always a polarity, and when we forget or lose sight of the fact that we’re living in the conditioned version of reality and not the original then we won’t be able to see that it is. We will then take the simulation to be the same thing as the original and we won’t see the polarity to be a polarity and this error is what transforms life into the dire scenario of ‘one problem after another after another’. In other words, this error is what transforms life (which isn’t a problem, and which we can relate to James Carse’s ‘Infinite Game’) into an endlessly repetitive and compulsive finite game where we are consumed by the need to keep on repeating the same basic pattern over and over again. We play with ‘the toy of thought’ and the toy plays with us, the toy defines us in its own terms; as Krishnamurti says –

The toy does absorb the mind but it does not free the mind to explore, to discover what is, if there is anything, beyond its own frontiers.

When we forget that the artificial world we have opted to live in is only an artificial world, is only a construct, then we get ‘subsumed within the polarity’ and when this happens we get trapped; we get 100% trapped since it is impossible to escape from a polarity unless we have insight into what a polarity is. Polarity is a stick with a ‘positive’ at one end and a ‘negative’ at the other and as long as we hang onto the stick we are hanging on to both PLUS and MINUS. Polarity is like a bar magnet in other words, and the thing about bar magnets — as Alan Watts points out — is that no matter how many times we divide the magnet in two (and produce two half-sized magnets) we are never going to end up with a situation where we have a North Pole without a South Pole connected to it! We can keep on chopping and chopping forever but all that’s going to happen is that the length of the bar magnet is going to keep on getting shorter and shorter. <Positive> and <negative> can’t ever be separated and this impossibility allows us to see something very interesting — it allows us to see that the Conditioned Realm is actually made up of nothing else but North and South, positive and negative. There isn’t anything else in it. There can’t be anything else in it…

Saying that the virtual world which is produced by the rational module is ‘made-up of nothing else apart from polarity’ is just another way of saying that it doesn’t actually exist outside of its own artificial terms since if every positive comes with a negative — which has to be the case since the two opposites can’t ever be separated — then the result (or ‘net outcome’) is always going to be ZERO. This is inevitably going to be the case given what we have just said and there’s no point in trying to figure out a way around it. This is therefore a pretty significant thing to realize about the thought-created world (or Mind-Created Virtual Reality). It’s something that really ought to be mentioned on the label but which isn’t; it isn’t mentioned on the label or in the promotional literature because the rational module — by its very mode of functioning — distorts everything it sees, including itself. We wouldn’t want to see this uncomfortable truth about the Conditioned Realm either — we’ve made our home here after all, and so we don’t want to see that it is a null-situation.

There is another very interesting thing we can say about the virtual reality world that is created by the rational-processing module and that is that it is predicated upon the polarity of ‘subject versus object’. There is in other words a central point from which everything is viewed, a fixed yardstick to which everything is related. This is why every single person, be they young or old, rich or poor, Republican or Democrat, always experiences themselves to be ‘the centre of the universe’. Thought always relates everything to a reference point, and this reference point is the self-concept. We call it ‘the self’ and see it as an absolute in its own right but it is actually only ‘an arbitrary reference point’. We don’t see things like this because we understand the centrality of the self as being perfectly natural and the only way things could be. The body is localised in space after all and we see ourselves as being the body, and so of course — we would say — we are looking at everything from this very particular (or ‘local’) POV.

This sounds like a reasonable enough argument, but the thing is that without thought playing its part in our perception of how things are we wouldn’t feel central or localised at all. Consciousness is a non-local phenomenon, not the product of the electrical or active chemical activity of our brain cells; it’s just an assumption that consciousness is local (and that it ‘belongs to us’). We can’t really be blamed for making such an assumption because ‘the local’ is all we know — non-locality is something that doesn’t really figure very much in our day-to-day lives, despite it being the case that — ultimately — non-locality is all there is. Locality — which is to say the state of being defined, in whatever way — is always an artificial situation that is brought about by selecting one way of looking at things over all others.

When we pay perfect attention to the moment, Krishnamurti says, then there is no centre. In perfect attention there is no one who is paying that attention — the perception that there is someone there attending is simply a symptom of our inattention. The perception that there is an ‘actor’, or ‘doer’, is simply a symptom of the way in which we see everything without noticing the assumptions that we have had to make in order to see whatever it is that we’re seeing. This is the unconscious mode of being. To say that the Rational Module produces a world in which there’s always a fixed or inviolable centre is the same as saying that the RM produces the illusion that there is an objectively true world out there, a world that we have not made, a world that has nothing to do with any choices we might have made with regard to what ‘platform’ we want to use when thinking about things.

The ‘objective’ view of the world is automatically generated when we look at things via the fixed viewpoint or taken-for-granted viewpoint. The central point of reference and the world that is constructed in relation to it are the very same thing and so to say that the rational module through which we filter our perceptions produces a world that is always seen via central point of reference is equivalent to saying that utilizing the system of thought (as we do) to ‘tell us about reality’ produces the misleading impression that there is an objectively true positive world out there within which we exist as this localized self. The positive or defined world is a reflection of the positive or defined identity, in other words. The stick that we have been talking about is therefore the fundamental illusion that lies behind the conditioned world and the two ends of this illusion-stick are the phenomenal self on the one hand and the phenomenal world on the other. Take away ‘the stick’ (which isn’t there at all really) and all that’s left is what Wei Wu Wei calls Non-Dual Subjectivity

In conclusion therefore, we can say that the type of world that the rational module generates for us to live in has a number of features that we are actually not ‘natural’ at all, but which we nevertheless take totally for granted. [1] is that there is a centre to the world which is the conditioned sense of self, [2] is that there is an outside objective reality which is the reflection of the specific viewpoint that we have adopted and [3] is that the whole setup is a disguised polarity, which means that we are always going to try to resolve matters so that there is a right but no wrong, a good but no bad, a winning but no losing whilst this is — although we can’t see it — a perfect impossibility. It’s a perfect impossibility because a polarity always flips from one opposite to the other just like a spinning coin or swinging pendulum. We can’t have the one type of displacement without automatically generating the counter-displacement to balance it and the more energy we put into the system (so that we can get the outcome we want and not the one we don’t want) the faster and more vicious the oscillation gets. And finally, [4] is that nothing is ever achieved in this virtual reality world since ‘gain’ and ‘loss’, ‘win’ and ‘lose’, ‘up’ and ‘down’ are ‘the two ends of the same stick’, which is the stick of polarity.

--

--