Defeating the Predator: The Limits of Insights and Convincing Ideas

Thanks to Dirk’s House of the Sun for the image and for interesting commentary:

“We have a predator that came from the depths of the cosmos, and took over the rule of our lives. Human beings are its prisoners.” …

From “Active Side of Infinity”, by Carlos Castaneda


I hate the loneliness of dishonesty, when I’ve broken some intimate connection with another by holding a poisonous secret. Or maybe it’s the loneliness of being trapped behind a false front, invisible to everyone.

I want to get down from the high horse that writing seems to conjure, because it’s not honest. I’m a mess too. I’m crawling around in the mud after having fallen off my high horse for the millionth time, crouched down among the dirty socks and muddy water, as you are too, nudging you in the ribs to ask “what the fuck is happening here?” Candor is what is needed now, and sometimes I don’t know how to be candid.

It makes me want to shout, like Ronny Cammareri, “I’m not a monument to justice!”

Here’s what I think is happening: We’re facing ourselves in the flesh, you and I, slowly maybe, but the world is forcing the issue, as we hit limits in every direction. We’re being forced to face ourselves without false fronts. In fits and starts to be sure. And as a percentage, not many of us, but millions here and there, now and then.

And this means we’re breaking now and then into a kind of impersonal point of view, where my sense of Self, my wooden character, my public persona, is seen to be coming apart at the seams. And this is good news, but it makes for a very chaotic person, who takes things personally, like a puppet of reactivity, in one instant, and then impersonally, and with unflustered bemusement in the next.

I feel like Pinocchio, parts of me feel almost alive at times.

Something is slowly distinguishing itself within us from the illusions of who we think we are. And we can’t point to it and say “that is my truer Self emerging”, because everything I identify so positively and with such conviction, is another illusion. The illusion can deceive me.

But illusion can also contribute to clarity (see also Tony Dias’s essay on illusion).

Writing allows me to edit out the inconsistencies so it’s easier to follow. And I’m exposing this false image of wisdom so nobody gets fooled. A performance or illusion can be more honest, in that sense, than a voice that claims to be the real Me. I’m going to speak as a consistent persona, but it’s a performance of sorts, an illusion, an honest fairy tale, that can’t be avoided, because there is no actual Me who is not an illusion.

All these difficult preliminaries, my apologies.

I can’t help wondering at first if I should make this more accessible to people. But I almost always give up on making it understandable to a large number of people, because that’s not my concern. I’m trying to dig vertically into my own confusions, not horizontally distribute what I already think I know. I’m not an activist who is trying to convince you of something. I’m learning. And learning precludes an agenda, because when I learn I don’t know where I’m going.

In digging deep I can only address a few imaginary readers (my apologies, I have faith that you will become real. But I, too, am imaginary to you).

And this is another odd issue: You’re imaginary right now, and I don’t need any real audience when I’m doing the work of writing. But I will need to know that it connected eventually with a few real people. Otherwise my imagination of you becomes less and less authentic, and then the writing follows suit.

And it’s not for ego gratification that I need a small group of readers who are also digging their way into themselves. But it’s the only way that an electrical connection can form to a mind larger than Me. It helps make Pinocchio real. Otherwise everything remains solipsistic and lifeless.

The Substantial Difference Between Actuality and Thought

Drawing on Castaneda here, I want to see (not just look at) the difference between actuality and thought. Castaneda’s meaning of Seeing (which I’ll always make bold to distinguish from surface looking) is probably equivalent to sensing what Bohm calls the “implicate order”.

So I need to ask myself whether I’m sincere about this, because deceiving myself with this enquiry would be the worst kind of self-betrayal. I’m not talking morally here. I’m saying there is a kind of arc towards actuality with any honest intention or idea. But even the most honest idea is only valid for a fleeting instant, and then it becomes corrupt and too important to itself, too literal and heavy in its meaning, so that the arc of the idea begins to turn away from actuality and become static, dogmatic and stupid. And if I allow my honest intention to degrade in this way I’ve betrayed myself at a dangerously deep level.

Constructs, thoughts, stories, theories, insights and even feelings are made of the substance of illusion. These illusions move the mind metaphorically in the direction of actuality, but they are made of a different substance entirely from actuality. And every sincere or insightful thought has one chance to deliver its charge, so to speak, to become real, and if we hold the idea too long the charge is lost, and it becomes a fetish, distracting attention from the actuality it attempted to illuminate in its creative ascent.

That doesn’t mean the thought can never be charged again. For me, negatively charged thoughts like “the map is not the territory” always seem to rise with a powerful charge. But at its peak ascent I rarely absorb the full charge. I almost always hold onto the substance of the words too long, not noticing what I’ve done; and only rarely does the charge carry perception into the radically different substance of a fully suspended state of mind, where the actual meaning resides.

The System of Thought (Bohm) Pictured Again as a Funnel

Picture the same funnel I drew for Funnel Vision. But here’s a close-up:

I’ll replace this with better drawings soon.

The funnel is a way of depicting the “system of thought.”

The surface of thought is roiling at present with all sorts of reactive charges of thought, some negatively, some positively charged. The walls of the funnel are constantly sparking and arcing like the surface of the sun, or better yet, like a bubbling primordial soup.

Most thoughts have a very short arc, are merely reflex responses, habits driven by old assumptions and fears, or prejudices leaping from the surface only a short ways and falling back to spark the next reactive thought. It’s a restless surface, what the Buddhists call Dukkha. A dis-ease.

Now and then more insightful thoughts erupt from the surface with greater charge and seem to arc towards the empty center, which, if you read Funnel Vision, is that suspended or uncertain state of mind, where the limits (and by implication the valid extent) of every thought are felt instantaneously, without judgment or repression. The “still point of the turning world” (Eliot).

If an insightful idea reaches its full charge of meaning and explodes as an “energetic fact” (Castaneda), then almost nothing is left of the substance of idea, word or image. These forms of meaning rapidly evaporate as they move into the suspended awareness of the center, which absorbs the meaning of the insight, almost like it is taking nutrition. The thought dissolves there, having delivered its charge, and is transformed into a heightened capacity to see[i]. The substance of meaning is changed from idea to actuality; from a static form to an active and honest awareness, what Krishnamurti called the capacity to see “the truth in the false and the false in the truth”.

Almost all human energy, however, has been trapped on the surface of the funnel, bubbling incoherently, caught in vicious circles (which is why I depict the system of thought as a circular funnel). So the potential of the impersonal center hasn’t been explored or accessed to any wide extent yet.

Honesty as Candid Corruption

So I need to ask myself if I’m being honest, because there is an ironic problem with insightful ideas. The more honest one tries to be — the more convincing the idea becomes — the more difficult it becomes to distinguish the idea from the actuality. Good ideas end up deluding us more deeply if the charge they deliver isn’t immediately effective in bringing us into that suspended state of mind.

So let me ask myself a hard question: Is this essay for show or for real? Do I only want applause or an actual communion? Will this be honest or only a (dishonest) presentation of honesty? Will I communicate only an idea or an actuality?

I can’t answer with a yes, no or even a maybe – at least not if the “maybe” is the kind that merely can’t decide whether to land on a “yes” or “no.” I can’t answer positively, because the honesty or dishonesty of this project (or of life itself)) is demonstrated at every given moment, with each word, motive and action. So it’s always up in the air, never conclusive.

And so I must remain uncertain about my own honesty or dishonesty. But, again, not the kind of uncertainty that is waiting for an answer. The question doesn’t demand a yes, no, or maybe, but an active alertness to every dishonest eruption in thought. It demands an active leap from the substance of thought to the substance of actuality.

But this active alertness isn’t judgmental or self-controlling. It’s a sensitivity to my own strained relationship to myself; awareness of the almost universal preference for the safety and certainty of the falsified map (or funnel wall) over the honest and bewildering territory (or suspended center).

So there is this dawning realization that the honest person is covered in filth. Honesty is the awareness of dishonesty. And that’s a far cry from the usual puritanical image of an honest person.

And this also means I can’t “try” to be honest or even good, because in straining for such an ideal I have already unconsciously shifted from the insubstantial, morphing substance of who I actually am to the idealized representation of that actuality. So the ideal leads to dishonesty.

I almost never notice this change in substance between wall and center, because I don’t want to notice it. It’s a self-deception driven by a reflex fear of looking dirty, a fear of losing the pristine image, and it has become numb habit by now.

The Limits of Insight

The temptation is to take the more profound insights as being somehow ‘closer’ to actuality. But no idea gets closer to the suspended center, no matter how it might look. All thought stays within the substantive domain of construct, and can never be conflated with the utterly different substance of the center.

Insightful stories and ideas may not get closer to actuality, but they can be more or less electrically charged with the potential of transformation. And this is what causes the confusion of thought and thing. Some thoughts provide an explosive positive or negative charge, which transforms our vision, either by negating a blinding assumption and/or providing a new metaphor or story that alerts us to a hitherto unnoticed potential in the world.

But there is nothing more difficult than noticing the moment an insightful or honest story starts to arc towards a self-deceiving lie.

In other words, Korzybski’s observation “the map is not the territory” has probably turned more people away from an awareness of the actual territory of oneself. Not his fault, but this is how the conflation of thought and thing survives – the negative charge of the statement is converted into another boring, old positive assertion. And then it’s no longer a realization of the difference between actuality and construct. Then it’s merely another posited (and convincing) image of the difference – an image of the territory, which is misleading.

I think I dove into that point pretty well (if you don’t mind the bragging) when I talked about “odd words” like “nowhere”, which can’t mean what the word pretends to mean. Nowhere will never communicate its emptiness, because the word “nowhere” provokes a busy and noisy construct. So as a positive assertion (which is how we typically read words) it carries a misleading meaning.  

But the word “nowhere” also carries a small but profound negative charge, which can help us see the limits of thought.

But at any rate, the “better” (or more charged ideas) also have the power to deceive more profoundly, if they are held in mind beyond their momentary shelf-life, becoming fetishes. Then they draw attention from the one substance (the real territory) to the other pale and artificial substance, (which is the map).

And the difference between these substances is not small. They are fundamentally different dimensions of meaning. They are as different as a bee’s dance differs from the real nectar.

But usually I don’t give much heed to that difference. And that’s why I don’t tend to recognize the moment I move from the one substance to the other.

Learning to Notice the Change in Substance between Insight and Actuality

“I want to appeal to your analytical mind. Think for a moment, and tell me how you would explain the contradiction between the intelligence of man the engineer, and the stupidity of his systems of beliefs; or the stupidity of his contradictory behavior” (Castaneda)

Or rather something doesn’t want to notice this retreat from the territory back to the map.

This retreat means that insights rarely explode with charged meaning, but tend to become heavy certainties that fall back to the surface as reflex beliefs. We don’t allow ourselves to be absorbed, in other words, in actuality too often. We listen distractedly to music or words or look too superficially or analytically at paintings, or more obviously, the earth itself. So the charges that these various forms of insight and actuality might provide rarely deliver us to that still point.

“Something” has infected the system of thought, making the surface of thought sticky, preventing the idea from releasing its full charge of meaning. Something harvests our agitated energy, consuming the positive and negative charges before they can grow too strong to be harvested. So as long as a human being is held captive on the surface of words, the center is not fully activated.

“You have arrived, by your effort alone, to what the shamans of ancient Mexico called the topic of topics. I have been beating around the bush all this time, insinuating to you that something is holding us prisoner. Indeed we are held prisoner! This was an energetic fact for the sorcerers of ancient Mexico.”

“Why has this predator taken over in the fashion that you’re describing, don Juan?” I asked. “There must be a logical explanation.”

“There is an explanation,” don Juan replied, “which is the simplest explanation in the world. They took over because we are food for them, and they squeeze us mercilessly because we are their sustenance. Just as we rear chickens in chicken coops, gallineros, the predators rear us in human coops, humaneros. Therefore, their food is always available to them.”

Castaneda, “Active Side of Infinity”

I think Castaneda’s metaphor of the predator provides a tremendously charged way of seeing this retreat from territory to map, this surface trap. Or am I only trying to dissociate from my own cowardice by projecting it all on a devilish monster that possesses me? (If you’re not familiar with the “predator” it will become clearer as you read).

To find out if this metaphor is valid, I need to see the retreat as it happens.

And I’ll need a wider view of the system of thought as a funnel: Here is what the suspended center feels like: If the small dishonesties in thought are fascinating rather than aggravating, I’m in a different frame of mind than usual. Then there is no desire to control (or further agitate) the selfish evasions and other white lies roiling the surface. Personal identification with these patterns ceases, and an impersonal vantage point is found.

But the impersonal vantage point can’t be reached until there is a powerful enough explosion of insight into one’s own error. Guilt is an insight that carries a powerful negative charge. Utterly essential. But like any highly charged insight it can be held too long. It has a very short shelf-life, like an air-bag. If there is any prolonged nursing of guilt this means it failed to fully release its charge of meaning and bring about that centered, non-defensive and impersonal alertness to the nature of one’s own corruption.

So when the insight of guilt reaches its peak charge it has to explode negatively, destroying the innocent image of oneself, but also any shameful or hated images. Because they are also distractions from the actuality of one’s error. Identification with error leads us away from a direct recognition of our error. The construct distracts from the actuality.

This is an interesting point. The reflex tendency is to remain identified with the wrong-doing I’ve committed in order to “show” remorse. But constant remorse requires a constant attachment to one’s own image. Not identifying with the guilty act ends up looking like an escape from responsibility for this reason. And this compels me to retain my white identity, for example, as a penance of sorts. It creates a double-bind where I have to identify as a white man to avoid the pretense of innocence.

But the impersonal perspective of the center is not an identification with (white) innocence, it’s an absence of identification entirely, which leaves awareness unmolested by denial, justification and other forms of self-defensiveness. And this allows me to remain in that suspended state of uncertainty regarding my innocence, alert to the habits of racism (or any other wrong-doing). [ii]

Honesty requires an impersonal perspective, which is a wider and more empathetic perspective. I know this is contrary to how we were raised to think. We were taught to work on improving ourselves, rather than abandoning ourselves to a wider perspective.

But it’s only within the impersonal or suspended perspective that a lively intelligence begins to distinguish itself from the dull habits of certainty and intellect. This new intelligence is not IQ, but a capacity to see through one’s pattern of reactivity without wringing one’s hands. This is the nature of responsibility (or what Castaneda calls “discipline”) – seeing the absence of our own authenticity in every thought; forgetting our conceptual Selves in the actuality of learning and changing. And this new vantage point sheds an irradiating light that kills the chain of reactivity driving the restless mind in circles away from the center.

“The only alternative left for mankind is discipline. Discipline is the only deterrent. But by discipline I don’t mean harsh routines. I don’t mean waking up every morning at five-thirty and throwing cold water on yourself until you’re blue. Sorcerers understand discipline as the capacity to face with serenity odds that are not included in our expectations. For sorcerers, discipline is an art; the art of facing infinity without flinching; not because they are strong and tough, but because they are filled with awe.”

Castaneda, “Active Side of Infinity”

So in a sense we’ve been coerced by habits of thought, by prejudices that originated in nobody, in no human being. And I know this doesn’t sit well with people who want to confront problems like racism in forceful and personal ways (and by Jesus I feel this urge also). But I’m trying to look more deeply and honestly than I usually do for the moment. And nobody will ever find the originator of a deception or brutality. The deceiver and the brute were already deceived and brutalized. There is no human origin to this confusion. It’s a predatory energy that traps us, and wants us to feel weak and guilty, trapped in identifications that discourage empathy.

What Rough Beast Holds Us to the Walls of this Funnel?

“Sorcerers [of ancient Mexico] believe that the predators have given us our systems of beliefs; our ideas of good and evil; our social mores. The predators are the ones who set up our hopes and expectations, and dreams of success or failure. They have given us covetousness, greed, and cowardice. It is the predators who make us complacent, routinary, and egomanical.”

“But how can they do this, don Juan?” I asked, somehow angered further by what he was saying. “Do they whisper all that in our ears while we are asleep?”

“No, they don’t do it that way. That’s idiotic!” don Juan said, smiling. “They are infinitely more efficient and organized than that. In order to keep us obedient, meek and weak, the predators engaged themselves in a stupendous maneuver — stupendous, of course, from the point of view of a fighting strategist; a horrendous maneuver from the point of view of those who suffer it. They gave us their mind! Do you hear me? The predators give us their mind which becomes our mind.”

From Castaneda’s “Active Side of Infinity”

Or you could call that “original sin” an inorganic momentum of reactivity that ate its way into us from the time we were fetuses, a “something” that seems to have trapped human energy in a small and seemingly safe world of mapped ideas, fearing the unknown of actual territory.

The momentum will tell us that this is all bullshit, and that we are personally guilty for the confusions that make us crazy and mean. You can look at it that way of course. And it will provide a small charge of insight, but it won’t leave us free from the illusions of good and bad that drive so much righteous war-making.  

So I think you and I have been trained to see all this as our own personal fault, and to be ashamed of our selfishness and greed and to berate ourselves. We call this taking responsibility. But the real predatory trick here is that self-contempt and control are the mechanisms employed by the monstrous momentum itself. They didn’t originate in anyone. We’re all carriers, some sicker than others.

Again, I can call this history of deceit, racism and war-making an Evil, a “Something”, a personal fault, a devil, a criminal cultural momentum, a corrupt “system of thought”, or an inorganic predator, and on and on. Every story delivers a different kind of insight into the nature of the problem. It’s not a matter of which is right and which is wrong, but how we wish to hold the prism of perception in order to see things we might not otherwise recognize. And the narrow vision of blame and fault-finding is easiest, and serves the momentum itself far better than a more impersonal vision that can see a predator among us.

So for now I find more meaning in looking at our delusional condition through the prism of Carlos Castaneda’s “inorganic being” or predator.

It’s dangerous to believe in the predator as a literal fact. (It’s dangerous to believe in God literally also, but dangerous in a slightly different way). Remember, there is no way to know what we’re dealing with except by facing its unfathomable actuality from moment to moment. But this angle or honest fairy tale provides an unusual insight into some of its qualities that would otherwise go unnoticed, such as its origins in something beyond the individual.

Defeating the Predator

And it’s the rare state of mind that finds enough small freedom to turn and face this imprisonment without freaking out or trying to bury the observation as fake news. Because nobody wants to recognize that they’ve been enslaved into carrying out the work of a predatory culture.

But it becomes harder for the predator to hold the human being if we can access the impersonal center even for brief moments. We begin to shake loose. But we can’t ever fully distinguish our actuality from the predator’s imagery until the backbone of the predator is discovered and snapped.

The backbone of the predator is the confusion of map and territory. As long as we remain confused by this, we remain captive, or “run by thought” (Bohm). But thought isn’t the problem. The problem is we’re hypnotized into taking thought literally.

The only way to snap the backbone of the predatory instinct is to resolve the problem of Literalism. This requires a particularly profound negative charge of insight, which can be formulated in countless ways, including “the map is not the territory” and “the thinker is the thought” (Krishnamurti).

Both pack enough negative explosive charge to make the system of thought immediately immune to the stickiness of thought, which kept it surface-bound, mechanical, awkward, and graceless. Literalism prevents thought from completing its life-cycle, maturing into an insight that dies in a charged explosion that leaves a fine mist of meaning that transforms the nature of Being.

Breaking that subtle, hidden belief in Literalism ends the stickiness systemically. Then the system of thought transforms. The agitation ceases, because it was only Literalism that enabled this reactivity. Thoughts scared us, ran us, because we thought they were real, and they molded the world to their assumptions, creating nationalism, racism, radical idealism of all sorts, which provided teleological “proof” of their reality.

“The [predator] knows that. The real danger is that the [predator’s] mind may win by getting you tired and forcing you to quit by playing the contradiction between what it says and what I say. You see, the [predator’s] mind has no competitors. When it proposes something, it agrees with its own proposition, and it makes you believe that you’ve done something of worth. The [predator’s] mind will say to you that whatever Juan Matus is telling you is pure nonsense, and then the same mind will agree with its own proposition, ‘Yes, of course, it is nonsense,’ you will say. That’s the way they overcome us.”

Castaneda, “Active Side of Infinity”

But without that fear and confusion, there is no agitation. The still point at the center expands, negating  every movement of error or corruption at the root. (But notice something interesting: the awareness of error never ends). And now and then there are positively charged bursts of creativity, fireworks of exploding ideas, because with every negative discovery there is a simultaneous positive vision (metaphoric, playful, elegant) of a new potential.

Was the Essay Worth the Trouble?

The [predators] are an essential part of the universe, and they must be taken as what they really are; awesome, monstrous. They are the means by which the universe tests us. We are energetic probes created by the universe,” he continued as if he were oblivious to my presence, “and it’s because we are possessors of energy that has awareness that we are the means by which the universe becomes aware of itself.

“The [predators] are the implacable challengers. They cannot be taken as anything else. If we succeed in doing that, the universe allows us to continue.

Castaneda, “Active Side of Infinity”

But finding a reader who is electrified by this (not merely by the words, but the actuality itself) is a rarity. And yet it’s not a select group of people I’m talking about. The point is, None of us seem interested most of the time, including me. Again, it’s not select people, but a select state of mind, which is equally available to everyone.

As I said (but I’m heading towards conclusion now so bear with this dementia), what tends to interest us instead of the actualities of our disturbing corruption, are the ideas that are so insightful that we can’t let go of them, and which end up dragging us back into bondage, because they are not in themselves actual.

This is the last great defense of the predator: an honest observation is formulated, and with this ‘truth’ it lures human attention back into convictions posing as fact. It entangles us in a “realism” that is fake.

Thought almost comes alive at its most insightful, but it can never fully come alive, for it’s not composed of a lively substance. We need to abandon the word at its highest arc and leap into the uncertainty of actuality if Pinocchio has any chance to become real.

So what does this essay leave you with? Words? An intellectual entanglement? Or does it at least remove one or two assumptions that might have blocked our communion? Can we see that our faults are not personal but systemic? Can we notice how our thoughts are not our own? Can we see the deceptive meaning of sustained guilt? Can we at least share the perspective that looking into the darker, terrifying corners is what saves us from self-destruction? And can we notice the last defense of the predator, when an insight begins to corrupt and become heavy with conviction, because this small negative charge of merely “noticing” also weakens the predator and leaves us suspended in alert sensitivity to our imprisonment, which is the beginning of freedom?

And what is this strange capacity to see through thought, this new intelligence, this part of us that can’t be captured or known? What is this force that seems to charge into the world like lightning, illuminating the structures it confronts, but which has no structure itself?

Beware Inorganic Beings of all shapes and sizes! Should the human being perceive the trap in a burst of lightning, you’re toast. We are on the threshold of life even as we approach the edge of suicide. The time has come to be honest like never before.

[i] Different forms of thought have different signature arcs. Music, for instance, might be imagined as hovering  near the center for the duration of the performance, emitting lots of small explosions of meaningful absorption, which carries the listener to that same state of suspended attention, hearing the living intelligence in the shift of sounds. So musical thought (so to speak) rises, lingers over time a little, setting off rhythmic fireworks, and then slowly echoes into silence at the suspended center.

And painting might be shaped like rapid spikes of negative and positively charged explosions, as the eye sees the underlying elegance of the strokes. Elegance is the movement of insight. That’s why paintings can open a person to that suspended, proprioceptive still point — delivering their unique charge of meaning as Being. As the eye scans the painting, the eye makes innumerable shifts, following the flow and rhythm of the strokes, and shifts in color and shading, and it feels the honesty of the painting in its elegance in communicating a certain tone of place and perception, or feeling, or perspective. Elegance is insight.

But on the surface a work of art might look clumsy at first until we learn to see. Picasso’s blocky, disjointed shapes might not look elegant on the surface, but then we penetrate the implicate order, where a hidden elegance is found.

Elegance is what actuality looks like. Anything alive and supple is elegant in contrast to the stiff, mechanical movements of fight and flight. Elegance is any intelligent (honest) movement.

That’s why I can tell when something is wrong about an essay, although I might not be honest enough to discover all the ugly deceptions at first. It’s not that I’m trying to persuade a particular audience and need to find the right words to convince them; I can tell something is off structurally when the essay isn’t elegant. The absence of elegance is a sign of contradiction, imbalance, clumsiness, etc. Ugliness is dishonesty.

That’s why beauty is important and not decorative. Beauty is insight.

So that bridges the divide between science and art. Both look for elegance. I hear it from mathematicians too. It’s the more elegant theory that is best.

[ii] But this only refers to the psychological origins of racism. It’ doesn’t affect the social reality of racism. I’m still a white guy with privileges. That doesn’t change, but my awareness of this privileged condition (and the brutality underpinning it) becomes obvious.

36 thoughts on “Defeating the Predator: The Limits of Insights and Convincing Ideas

  1. Count me in. I enjoy your posts, and look forward to them. Often I am moved to comment, but then I read a little further, and you’ve covered it. Such is the accuracy of your exposition. If I may, a comment on observer and observed. For the observer to become, or be the observed, does not mean identification with the observed. I do not become the tree I am looking at. That would be absurd. No, the seer becomes the seen. This is no mystical theory. It can actually be done, and it may be the fundamental action. When it happens, there is no seer/listener/observer. There only is seeing, listening, observing. But thought, however profound, comes in and creates the thinker, creates the division between observer and observed. This is the original error.

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    • Thank you so much! Very kind. And yes, I’m saying “the observer is the observed” is a tremendously profound insight just like you described, (a powerful negative explosion), that reveals the illusion of the image. (It blows Literalism to smithereens).

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      • It might be a little confusing. I think “the observer is the observed” is a powerful charge of insight. It can destroy the confusion between thought and thing. But often it doesn’t fully explode, and instead merely shows the truth of the observation for a moment. Then we’re left with a greater conviction that the “idea” is right. So the essential meaning ends up getting contradicted. Because we end up confusing the idea for the actuality again. We “know” what it means as an idea then, but not as an actuality.

        See, I think “the observer is the observed” isn’t an idea at heart. If it’s only an idea if we don’t quite get its full meaning. It’s an explosion or activation of actuality, which eliminates the need to hold onto the words, unless there’s a need to discuss the meaning again.

        But thanks for spurring me on to think about how to describe this a little better. It’s all a bit new to me still.


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  2. Jeff! This is an extremely helpful prism you have created here. I’ll be sitting with it for a while and then maybe I’ll have something more to say. For now, I’m meditating on the funnel and the predators. (I read Castaneda’s two first books and then left it off. This makes me want to go back to them.) Thank you.

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  3. Thanks Jeppe. I had a prejudice against them, thought they sounded fake. But there’s more there than I realized. I just read “A Separate Reality” and was blown away, might have something to say about that one soon too. Talk soon.

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  4. Rereading this on Inauguration Day I find why I’m really feeling a buoyancy of spirit.

    There is so much here in this, and the second part of this essay. It feels like any effort to put my “understanding” of it into words would be futile. All I can say, and keep saying, is, Read it!

    There is something profoundly new and profoundly the product of this moment here. By moment I don’t just mean today’s political moment, although reading this does a lot to prepare one for what our political moment calls us to face.

    For me, this is a piece to savor and to return to. It asks of me to get to know it. Not to memorize it like some creed. Not to analyze it and take away a concept. It is holographic, in the Bohmian sense, and in this way we participate in its movement as we read it.

    Art allows us to…, not hold, or capture, or own insight; but maybe to remain or return to its proximity. Rereading this, following its movement and being struck by its clarities and honesties, allows us to run through these movements again. Experience is layered and our organisms are attuned to learning through meeting a mix of similarities and differences from our expectation. Each encounter brings a new connection and internalizes the movement into our awareness of what is possible.

    Truly something to celebrate!

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    • I’ve been puzzling over the last essay I wrote — the squid (gift of shape-shifting). Even though I enjoyed writing it somewhat, I think it arced a little towards the substance of idea, and so I acted more falsely, as a teacher with settled truths, rather than as someone learning. The authentic personality was mostly absent. Afterward I had the momentary inspiration to look at what went “wrong” in the last one, and felt a real comic inspiration. But I’m going to stop writing a while and let things settle.

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      • I know what you mean. It’s so hard not to be drawn into a momentum….

        Still, I especially found the image of the Predator allowing that fringe of feeling to persist so that they can feed to be a great way to look at the way we tend to fall into reacting to “events” without ever moving forward. The rest of our capacity pruned like “extra” buds so the farmer can get one juicy fruit!

        Also, there’s a silliness to the Squid! It’s like you are demonstrating the ridiculousness of metaphor, not a bad thing….

        As I get through The Book of Disquiet I keep finding echoes and rhymes with your Negative Geography and our shared inquiry….

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      • Yes, like a farmer getting some juicy fruits. If we could turn to face it fully as a kind of harvesting activity the guilt for being made small immediately starts to dissipate. it’s ironic and seems counter-intuitive, but the discovery of our helplessness restores agency. (I think you hit the thing I was missing, the silliness of the metaphor. I do feel drawn towards making silly stories out of everything happening to us because (maybe) it punctures the heaviness of the predatory spirit.

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      • “The discovery of our helplessness restores agency.”

        Yes! The Predator’s ploy is to keep us feeling guilt, helplessness, anything other than that they impose the whole mess upon us.

        There are so many echoes here to talking about The Ego, but the Predator as a metaphor adds some useful distance. So long as we feel we are “fighting an aspect of our selves,” such as Ego, we keep feeding the Predator without getting outside of the cycle.

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  5. There can’t be many things harder than trying to work out what this ‘predator energy’ is all about! I think that this energy will seem familiar to a lot of psychotherapists who get a sense of something that traps their clients in a painfully restricted version of themselves. Some therapists talk of ‘self-sabotage’ and ‘secondary gain’ for sufferers to stay suffering even when help is there (supposedly) but this isn’t very insightful. It’s more blaming than insightful! I feel that there’s an actual energy there that delights in trapping us – the predator energy’ that you are talking about! But what the hell is it? I sense it at work in my own life too. We have a strong tendency to project an external literal enemy to explain things but that is missing the point too as you suggest.

    The following quote from Paul Levy really seems to echo the Castaneda quote you have –

    The emergence of the negative father archetype in this waking dream of ours is an invitation ─ make that a demand ─ to step into our true strength and power. Seen as a dreaming process, the negative father embodies the very process we need to engage with so as to build up our muscle of realization. That the archetypal myth of the negative father is incarnating itself in our world is an expression that this deeper process is available for conscious assimilation in a way that was simply not available before. Whether we are destroyed by the negative father or empowered is up to no one but ourselves. We collectively bear the responsibility for our current situation, and we also have within us the power to change it.

    and also- very much I think – this other quote from Levy in an article he wrote on Philip K Dick’s gnostic writings ( –

    The emergence of the negative father archetype in this waking dream of ours is an invitation ─ make that a demand ─ to step into our true strength and power. Seen as a dreaming process, the negative father embodies the very process we need to engage with so as to build up our muscle of realization. That the archetypal myth of the negative father is incarnating itself in our world is an expression that this deeper process is available for conscious assimilation in a way that was simply not available before. Whether we are destroyed by the negative father or empowered is up to no one but ourselves. We collectively bear the responsibility for our current situation, and we also have within us the power to change it.

    Sorry about the long quotes but it’s all very fascinating!

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    • This explication of PKD (link you sent) is strange and familiar. Strange because my own encounter with the unreality of life hit like a brick to the head when I was 13, and I didn’t think the horror of that experience would ever be understandable to anyone, because it resulted in a solipsism so impenetrable or all-encompassing that nothing existed but fear and hallucination. It settled a bit over the years, triggered into nightmare periodically, and became a kind of low grade pressure, or depression. Then in 1984 it resolved itself for about 2 weeks, and then closed up again mostly, leaving me frustrated, for the rest of my life I’ve tried to describe and re-invoke the resolving frame of mind, and only in the last 6 or 7 years has the frustration disappeared. So it’s also strangely familiar, because these descriptions like the one you sent were there all along, and never came my way. But I don’t know if I would have been able to read Dick (or even that link you sent above) 30 years ago without feeling paranoid, because I would have thought, “how could this so perfectly match my (“personal”) experience; it must be a trick being played on me.” Me as the isolated focal point of nothingness. But I hear them now, I find them (through you and others) now, when I’m able to listen without panic. Now that it’s not “my” story, but Everyone’s tale. It’s almost like Helen Keller, you have to trust that there’s a real world there, when in fact you never touch it, never come into contact with anything but the imagination. And learning to see this horror of a never-ending imagination, an unreality that can’t be pushed aside, learning to See (in Castaneda’s words) through this hall of mirrors, not gaining positively some clear and certain knowledge, which is always another hallucination, but by negation, falling into a world that can’t be doubted, that finds a place for the imagination, resolving the confusion of thought and thing, has to be what she felt in feeling and knowing water for the first time, at least that’s how it seems. (It’s very strange, but a friend with whom my wife and I are not in contact very often, sent me for Christmas (which has never happened before) a copy of Castaneda’s book, and I’d been thinking of reading it, been stewing on it for months prior to receiving it in the mail. She had no way to know that. I shouldn’t be surprised by these things, and I don’t want to give them too much importance, because there’s a danger in that, but it’s strange, it’s suggestive of parallel or hidden realms in which we are simultaneously manifesting, when something falls into our lap almost literally when we are finally ready to receive it.

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      • I imagine you wouldn’t have been able to explain this to anyone, which is even more alienating. (Although what could be more alienating than that anyway?) It’s not as if anyone is going to get it’, particularly if you are a child (or young teenager in your case) and you are trying to talk to adults. It’s a like a terrible knowledge you can’t share and anyway (of course) in the solipsistic world there is no one else to share it with anyway – you being ‘the isolated focal point of nothingness’ as you say. Reading your comment it comes to me that the expereince of total solipsistic enclosure is like an inverted analogue of Unity or Oneness. This happens to people tripping sometimes I think, as testified to be this account of a guy who had a big dose of mescaline and had an experience of oneness but a very horrific one.

        See following passage from Johannes Fabricius (1976). Alchemy -The Medieval Alchemists and Their Royal Art. Diamond Books. (p 208, 209):

        Frightening experience of the One

        The psychological implications of Basil Valentine’s cosmic man may be amplified by a psychedelic experience of the same figure. Inexperienced and poorly guided, a young American journalist was hurled by 490 milligrams of mescaline to the same top of the mountain which Basil valentine had conquered after a life-long opus circulatorium:

        ‘I didn’t like what was happening. I was starting to remember something, and it seemed to have some connection with sunlight and a cradle. But what could it be? Then it came to me that I All-seeing eyewas gradually remembering my own identity, like an amnesia victim who slowly recovers his past. Finally it all fell together, and I remembered who I was. And it was so simple, really. I was life. I was being. I was the vibrant force that filled the room, and was the room. I was the world, the universe. I was everything. I was that which always was and always would be. I was Jim [the guide], and Jim was me, and we were everybody else, and all of us put together were the same thing, and that same thing was the only thing there was. We were not God. We were simply all that there was, and all that there was wasn’t God. It was us, alone. And we were each other, and nowhere anywhere was there anything else but us, and we were always the same, the one and only truth.

        “Jim,” I said, “can you get me out of this?”

        “Uh-huh. You want to try it another half-hour?”

        “Yes,” I said, “Let us try it another half-hour.”

        ‘Having been reunited with the Ground of my Being, I wanted urgently to be estranged from it as quickly as possible. But I tried to hold on, at least for a while, and I tried to laugh at the terrifying idea that was building up in my mind. ‘I don’t want to be God,’ I said. ‘I don’t even want to be city editor.’ But it did no good to laugh, and I stopped trying. Of course I wasn’t God, I knew that. But I was All That There Was, and I didn’t want to be that, either. It was dark now, and I could hear children playing somewhere outside the hospital – under a street lamp no doubt – and their lonely voices filled me with sadness. The children, I thought. The children, and Jim, and me: we were all the God there was. And it was sad and awful, because I wanted there to be a God. For the children at least, if not for me. But the loss of God was not the worst of it; there was something far worse even than that. The loss of my little self was not the worst of it; nor indeed did I regret that at all. It was what I had gained. I had gained the whole universe, it seemed, and that was more than I could cope with – more than I could bear.

        ‘I didn’t want it.

        ‘But who was I, who didn’t want it? I was Everybody, the Self. And now I knew what the little selves were for, I thought. They were a fiction designed to protect the Self from the knowledge of its own Being – to keep the self from going mad. For surely, without them, the Self might be driven to insanity by the thought of its own audacity, and the thought of its own loneliness, …’

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      • This is very similar to what happened. And what you said was very insightful, very true to what I felt. However, it felt less spacious somehow than even this man’s description on drugs. No possibility of laughter, utter horror of realizing (it was an insight I had, so it was indisputable, but an insight that landed wrong or got immediately twisted up in a misinterpretation that was impossible at the time to sort out. i rememer going to my older sister’s room and tentatively mentioning what was happening. She had been in a mental hospital for 3 years and I suspected it was similar, but I could never quite get her to see this either. Tentative because it was like a fever had hit me, a heat and pressure, my ears were ringing and it never left for months. The horror of the utter isolation, the indisputable reality of the oneness, which was a failed insight into wholeness. Oneness and wholeness are different at the base, because oneness is isolated, whereas wholeness is empty. There’s no room for a sense of Self in wholeness, but in oneness the self is stranded so to speak in emptiness. I suspected strongly that everyone and everything I met — no, I felt it strongly — that everyone and everything was my own projection, because it was! But to sort that out took years. A misunderstood insight. I could not enjoy anything anymore, and didn’t dare make it more real by mentioning it except quietly now and then, and it made it worse, the inability of my mother (a wonderfully warm person) to help cemented the sense of isolation. So I talked about this a bit in the manifesto, and the essay What Is Real, but I was able to have a fairly normal adolescence in appearance and at times I really was able to mostly forget it, but it was like a pressure that kept me in a limited space for those years. And when I was 15 and 17 it hit again full force,, a waking nightmare, really the worst thing I can imagine and I spent all my life’s energy resolving it, it’s the only thing I could really do. See once in a while there would be brief insights that made sense for a moment, adn I worked on them so to speak. So by about 19 I felt less fearful, but I’d missed something in growing up. It took a while for the social skills to mature, a long time. And then there were brief powerful resolutions in college, one of which led to writing in a frenzy the first version of negative geography at age 21 or so (Life as a Wraith). Then I spent time alone for the first time in my life truly alone, and it was exciting, and I made a kind of resolution to dig out the fear once and for all, face it again, and not just live in a compartment away from it. In February, 1984 (24 years old) I had what I would call the reverse experience, a resolution at the root of thinking, where imagination starts to go haywire, and this was before I’d read Krishnamurti or Bohm or much Beckett or any zen, or had heard much of meditation, but I was in retrospect naturally meditating every night, nothing was more interesting than sitting quietly outside and watching thought rise and fall into a profound peace and efficiency of being. It was better than LSD (which almost rivaled it when I tried that 2 years later). LSD (which I only took for 3 days) seemed to help resolve some social deficits, or at least begin to heal them. But the socializing problem grew in some ways more intense after 1984, because now I wanted to share this unbelievable discovery of potential, but moving from that space (which I could still access now and then at night) back into the normal social world was unbelievably confusing and frustrating. Now when I was finally begining to heal from that nightmare of adolescence I looked to my family and friends more crazy than every. Now they thought I was in trouble, when it was merely social adjustment troubles, trying to accommodate these two very different mentalities. That may have caused more waves and looked more troubling, but it was Nothing compared to the horror I had already escaped. Now I was kind of stranded between the two and slowly engulfed into a dull world set apart again from that more beautiful world. And this unresolved insight has begun to resolve itself over the last 6 or 7 years, thanks to deep connections over these issues with a series of people, my brother Brian, a woman named Pat Styer, Tony and Jeppe above, yourself, and my wife Margie. That’s the whole story for me, but it’s not as unusual as I thought as a kid when there was nobody who understood. Beckett did, wow. Oh, and above all perhaps, yes, Krishnamurti, Bohm and Beckett were like my secret friends in my early 20s, confirming the 2 week hiatus from madness, and Beckett’s Molloy and Unnamable were breakthroughs for me in ways I still can’t explain or show to others. But the laughter reading him was the deepest and most healing laughter I’ve ever known. I couldn’t breathe from laughing, it gave me chills of joy. And I forgave myself for being stupid, I can’t explain it, but it perfectly reflected my state of mind, adn brought such an insigtful sense of humor to it all that he and the other two are kind of like masters for me, whom I cant’ stop loving. Thank you for understanding. It still feels like a little miracle to be able to have this understood.

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      • About what you were saying there – I remember having moments of awareness of the possibility of entering and getting trapped in the solipsistic state back when I used to take acid regularly, it never happened to me though. I do remember having some kind of horror at the thought of being in a world where it is all ‘me’. That is an utter hell-state without any doubt. I think the inability to share the experience or be understood is crucial; most people do feel that they can be understood when they are children and if you are a child who knows very well that they cannot this is a very mature (I don’t mean to say that this is a good thing!) understanding and takes the child into a different territory entirely. Perhaps it is the case that normal socialization cannot take place then because for socialization to take place we have to feel that there is common ground. I do understand that aspect of it because when I was 8 or so I had a series of nightmares (which seems like an inadequate word) that were extremely significant. They were bigger and more significant than mt everyday life in any event, which paled into insignificance in comparison. When I woke up after these dreams, which always had the same form, I knew with absolute certainty that what was in the dream was the real reality and waking life just a kind of ‘escape’. I knew it so very deeply that there was no question of doubting it, and so this knowledge was something that I realized I would never be able to explain to anyone (anyone meaning my mother at that stage,but later meaning everyone). The dream had to do with the awareness of some unthinking thing going wrong that was my fault, something too big for me to be able to comprehend, and when I woke up I could actually see floating sparks following me into everyday reality, and they signaled to me that the dream I had just left was real and everyday life was not at all. I knew this absolutely, just as you knew that everything around you was your own projection, I think. It took the good entirely out of my life, I think it is fair to say, although I carried on as normal, but without ever doubting what I knew, which was that this life or this world was only my escape – it is where I had run to in my ability to deal with the catastrophic awareness that we coming back to me in the dreams, like an echo. Not something you can explain to anyone, really. Socialization never ‘took’ with me, I could never feel part of what everyone else was part of. School was utterly meaningless to me and thoughts of getting a degree and getting a job even more meaningless. What did change things for me was dropping out of London university, becoming a squatter, and taking lots of street drugs. It doesn’t sound so healthy I know, but I think it was for me! More healthy than society ever would d have been for me,anyway… So this thing about being a child and having a knowledge that you know no adult could ever understand necessarily changes things so much – in the end run to the advantage, of course, though it makes life very hard at the time..

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      • Wow, very interesting! Yes, makes so much sense. And yes, when I was in my teens, the long nights drinking and smoking dope helped me also. But this description of yours is tremendous, I have to read it over and over. It took the good entirely out of your life. Yes, that’s how it felt for me also. Very clear description. Thanks.


  6. Sorry I double quoted there – this is the second quote I meant to paste –

    PKD writes, “It is as if the immune system has failed to detect an invader, a pathogen (shades of William Burroughs: a criminal virus!). Yes, the human brain has been invaded, and once invaded, is occluded to the invasion and the damage resulting from the invasion; it has now become an instrument for the pathogen: it winds up serving as its slave, and thus the ‘heavy metal speck’ [i.e., the BIP] is replicated (spread through linear and lateral time, and through space).”[17] The mind invaded becomes an unwitting channel for the pathogen to further propagate and spread itself in and through the field.

    To quote PKD, “We may not be what we seem even to ourselves.”[18] Wetiko/BIP is a shape-shifting bug; it cloaks itself in and assumes our form, impersonating us such that we then identify with its limited and impoverished version of who we are while we simultaneously dissociate from—and forget—who we actually are. Wetiko/BIP is in competition with us for a share of our own mind; it literally does everything it can to think in our place, sit in our seat and occupy—and possess—our very selves. Speaking of this very situation, PKD writes, “A usurper is on the throne.”[19]

    Having no creativity on its own, once wetiko “puts us on,” i.e., fools us into buying into its version of who we are, it can then piggyback onto and plug into our intrinsic creativity, co-opting our creative imagination to serve its malevolent agenda. PKD writes, “Being without psyche of its own it slays the authentic psyches of those creatures locked into it, and replaces them with a spurious microform of its own dead psyche.”[20] Sometimes using the phrase the “Black Iron Prison Police State” (which is mirrored externally in the ever-increasing “police state” of the world), PKD also describes this state as one where the person so afflicted becomes “frozen” (as in trauma), in a “corpse-state” (i.e., spiritually dead).

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  7. I really like the idea that it all comes down to the ‘stickiness of the system of thought’ (if I’ve got that right) and the way that we get bound to the map instead of the territory. This is exactly what the Demiurge does when he traps us in the false creation or false reality – what does he get out of doing this, though? Jean Baudrillard portrays the world of hyperreality as a crime, the ‘murder of the real’ (as a result of which we are forced to live in the hyperreal as if it were the real) being the ultimate or archetypal crime. What is gained by the crime though – no one commits a crime without having a motive, do they?

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    • Ok, that’s a great question. We could have some fun speculating. And I wonder if these speculations would provide different insights into what’s going on (if they were honest attempts to understand this force). But none of the depictions, including “the predator” would fully get the actuality of it I think. But what I started tending to imagine, is what Castaneda said in the book itself — that this is a real predator in the less “evil” sense after all. A mirror force, like the deer and the wolf are mirror forces, which (in both cases) spur evolution. If we learn to see through the predatory force, the hypnosis, the other elements of this predation, then we move into a different field, where the challenges are very different. And maybe that’s jumping the gun. However, this angle provides an insight into how we might respond to our own stupidity and blindness. It has an element of potential in it that other more sinister insights don’t seem to have. To be sure, it’s still dark enough to scare the shit out of us, but not so dark that it leads deeper into the enchanted maze of the predator’s own nightmarish mind. I’m not sure I’m being super clear here, but winging it. I think I mean that the prism of “the predator” is subtle enough to awaken us to a real force that has mostly parasitized thought, and runs us for the energy it needs, while somehow simultaneously revealing the potential to defeat this particular predatory challenge. We’re just enough awake to provide that sliver of light in the “egg” Castaneda mentions. The rest of our intelligence is consumed before it can mature, but this suggests that sense of impending maturity that many of us seem to have despite the situation we face. And even though most would say that this angle is way too dark, it’s really a way to shine a light into what was dark, and read the situation more as a heroic challenge for the species as a whole, rather than as a real nightmare. But what I’m also interested in right now is the prismatic perspective, because the predator can’t operate in this way. The predator lures us down increasingly narrow paths towards a dead end or a loop that generates the friction it needs to live. But the prismatic perspective opens up the field, by allowing us to operate peacefully in the face of utter uncertainty. It turns the predator’s maze or hall of mirrors inside out so that it becomes a lens to recognize the unlimited freedom of actuality. The nightmarish inability to find anything ultimately real is changed from this angle into a joyful discovery of a world that will always be larger and more real than anything we imagine.

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  8. That reminds me of something Philip K Dick wrote:

    “Everything is turned around; yin or YHWH bellows and curses and rants; whereas the true Abba, the authentic yang part, is gentle–and its voice is mild and small and reasonable; it does not threaten or rant. This voice seems almost feminine. That which is truly all-powerful (cf. Zen) has no need to threaten or intimidate. This is a “hall of mirrors” –the true creator is mild and gentle and loving; the usurper bellows (‘the arrogant one’ who does not know there is a father above him/her). Here, again, we are presented with a puzzle and a lesson. Q: ‘Which is the real creator, the ‘still small voice’ or the booming, threatening one who can curse the land with plagues and blights – i.e. has mekkis?’ The coercive or the reasonable-persuasive? ‘Come, let us reason together’. God the loving father wishes us to discern this along our path of enlightenment – not to worship power but to trust wisdom and love.”

    — Philip K. Dick’s Exegesis p. 324

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    • Oh, this looks good. Thanks so much! Before I read it I just want to get something off in rough form. Not even sure what it is, but let me ramble: until I saw these quotes or read your responses I never encountered anyone who saw how horrifying the experience is. Even as an adult I couldn’t explain it, because it sounds from our normal perception so ridiculous. How could anyone actually feel that nobody was there with whom they were speaking? Or people would think, how selfish? Or they might imagine that it’s an intellectual fear, like the kind stoned teenagers would play around with (when they played like this around me I was stone cold, but thinking “you don’t know what you’re playing with, stop, please stop.”) But they can’t imagine it (and I never really wanted to make them feel the pain itself, because it would ruin them), but they can’t imagine it because they don’t see that everything, including our normal sense of the world, is a trap of thought which merely provides the illusion of space and freedom. And if we can get caught in any thought (even a pleasant one for a while), then we can also get caught in a terrifyingly claustrophobic world. The difference is less than paper thin, we live on extraordinarily thin ice. The terror was one thing, and it came and went with shocks, but the in-between time was like walking on ice so thin you could see the abyss of hell under every step you took, for years and years and there was no logical way out; I never thought it would end, that I’d be able to say this to anyone without cracking the ice. Even as recently as 5 years ago I fell into a panic for an hour, and at that moment it was as if I had never left hell and I would never get out. But something has changed, and I don’t think it will happen again. And somehow this exchange has made that clearer and stronger. Thanks. Looking forward to this article.


      • Here’s what I wrote about it in the Manifesto: “On one particular night, this perspective hit like an electric jolt. I saw an undivided (singular) awareness twisting in and out of stories fabricated to reflexively fend off the horror of an inexplicable isolation. That physical jolt made the vision ironically more real than anything I’d ever felt. The cold horror of that experience was the worst thing I’ve ever known or could imagine knowing. It lasted for months. This happened two more times over the next four years. And the burden of this “knowledge” made the world look colorless, drab.

        A few years ago I saw a horse pawing at a stream to reach some flooded grass. It reminded me of what I’d been doing then. I was trying to think my way past this stream of consciousness to reach solid ground.

        At the time, I couldn’t tell anybody about this because I couldn’t trust they were there. Even now, the fear residing in that perspective radiates some heat. So it feels a little flippant to say this now, but I think in the end the experience was something very good, because it opened up a new perspective on what “I” am, and on reality itself.

        But this fear still resonates because that solipsistic perspective isn’t merely “mine.” It exists as a potential in assumptions found in human consciousness as a whole. The whole culture seems to be making familiar leaps between innocuous looking “ifs” and “thens,” landing in conclusions very close to that old horror.

        I think we make these leaps because in some sense we’re “seeing double.”

        Some tacit, blanket assumption of separation dogs human thought, regardless of the culture. Or maybe it’s built into the structure of thought. If it is, we don’t seem to recognize the danger of this cross-eyed bias. This assumption of separation even fragments one’s own supposedly integral self-consciousness into imaginary Siamese Twins – the observer and the observed (as Krishnamurti pointed out so well).

        When I was 13 – immediately prior to that “jolt” — I think I briefly realized that self-consciousness was a falsifying fragmentation of what is undivided by nature. I seem to have stumbled on this perspective of wholeness before I was savvy enough to recognize how fear and ignorance would distort that perspective.

        But it’s not hard for a child to see the whole. Children have to be trained out of this perspective. And sometimes the drifty class-clowns hold out longer, are in a better position to intuitively recognize the tautological character of the training – that in being taught to see everything as separate, divisions are provoked and then given back as proof of the validity of the training.

        Maybe the child also occasionally saw through the “obvious” evidence that we’re physically separate from one another. In his somewhat drifty manner he wondered how deeply this separation extends. Impertinent questions stirred: Don’t we grow out of one another? Isn’t the same air part of us, aren’t we composed of the same perpetually recycling matter? Do people conflate wholeness with sameness? (Branches in a tree aren’t the same, but they’re also not separate). Aren’t there other ways of being connected than the ones we’re trained to see?

        Later it’s harder to disentangle the fine mesh of accumulated learning that hangs like a veil, causing us to see double.

        But even at an advanced age, it’s still possible to recognize our own reflex reiterations of that old cross-eyed training. Then the perception that another person is separate from us can be felt as an arbitrary barrier erected by imagination. In the momentary dissolution of such barriers there’s wholeness by default.

        Then it’s possible to feel the shared nature of memes and emotions and feel awareness flowing through life in much the same way that atoms are said to flow through every star, planet and being since at least the Big Bang.

        After such an encounter, however, it’s very easy to be deluded into believing that one has “grasped” wholeness.

        But the whole is impossible to grasp. The physicist Hans-Peter Dürr talked of the neo cortex as a “virtual hand.” It molds the flowing whole (Wirklichkeit) into a collection of things (Realität). And the very fact that this virtual hand leaves its mark on everything can lead us to leap to the conclusion that there is no other possible way of knowing the world.

        Every mode of perception is its own infinity. And if we were beings who could only hear, and were told about a world of sight, we would probably ask, What does sight sound like? And if we were told “it’s no sound at all,” we might fear that this new perception would plunge us into emptiness.

        Likewise, in trying to recall the whole, we use our imagination to “step outside” the experience, as if it were a single, graspable object. In this way, the memory of wholeness gets distorted into something that still feels separate from the tacit observer. Wholeness, which is all-inclusive, devolves then into something that feels isolating, empty.

        When this happens, the usual meaning of Self gets twisted up in this false memory of wholeness, either inflating self-worth beyond all proportion (as in “I am God”), or depressing and suppressing the Self-image into a disparaged unreality.

        When the latter happens, the tacit observer gets stranded (so to speak) as a kind of disembodied suffering under the glare of that “singular” consciousness. This can easily lead to schizophrenic fears of manipulation and control.”

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  9. Maybe shizophrenia always comes down to ‘suffering under the glare of that singular consciousness. It seems likely. it is no wonder so we are very far from understanding schizophrenic-type experiences therefore since most of us are managing to live lives that are perfectly insulated from awareness of the whole. The degree to which we are insulated is incredible really – you’d wonder how it is even possible. And yet of course it is very possible indeed! It’s the rule rather than the exception. What strikes me both from what you say and from my own experience is that – no matter how distorted the perception of wholeness – we can’t doubt it and we can’t ‘forget’ it. Even if the experience meaningless to everyone else (which it is) we still don’t doubt what we saw, which is of course strange given that people’s perception of reality is so very easily influenced or shaped by what other human beings believe. We know that they don’t get it and it is weird for a young child to know that there is something so very important and vital that the adults around them don’t (and can’t) ever understand. What does this do to the child’s psychological development? Most people would probably say that something like this can’t be good but the potential blessing here it spares us from the blankness of social conditioning. There is a kind of immunity to conditioning there.

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    • I imagine that the definition of schizophrenia (and other disorders) is vigorously guarded territory, and that these definitions are probably the subject of big, haughty disagreements. Probably around whether it’s a chemical problem, literally treatable by chemicals, or a material problem, some sort of “wiring” problem, a cultural manifestation (how it’s looked at, supported or not by a culture; whether or not the culture itself is sick by various definitions) or a psychological problem, and within that area, whether the psychological problem is an extreme maladjustment to society; or whether the psychological problem is a response of trauma to a sick society; and then the arguments over how these factors are weighed in importance. But if we alter starting assumptions a little, we might be able to say that schizophrenia is a failed insight maybe — the confusion of thought and thing has been noticed in some deep, muscular sense, but only in passing, so that the person merely ends up afraid of something others don’t really See in that muscular or Castaneda sense. So they are in a sense the canaries in the coal mine maybe. And all psychic disorders may merely be different symptoms of this same general confusion of the nature of thought, the symptoms varying by depth and angle of contact with this negative fact. They become misinterpreted insights — or simply interpreted insights. Because the interpretation or verbal explanation of a muscular insight (if it’s mistaken for the truth itself) is like an unexploded change in Being; a mis-direction of significance; leaving the person “knowing” something with great conviction verbally, while knowing nothing of what it really means, as a change in Being, as a change in relationship to one’s own perceptions. So in this case the realization that what I think isn’t real (that nothing I “know” is real), becomes the unexploded fear of this realization, a panicked attempt to make sense, to connect dots, to pull something wooly over my head, to deny the insight as much as possible with every kind of fantastic story. Spirals of panic can form (like thunderstorms, like a dog chasing its tale), as the stories frighten themselves into ever more outlandish thoughts that are each desperately trying to assert a solid ground of reality in denial of the half-understood fact that thoughts and perceptions are all fiction, unreal. If that can be seen as schizophrenia, then it’s not strictly a personal problem, and it would explain why we are running amok on the surface of the earth like people fleeing from hallucinations. I think we need to consider ourselves schizophrenic, and the rest is only degree.

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  10. Yes it’s really funny the way that the territory, as you say, regarding the definition of schizophrenia is so vigorously defended and that haughty disagreements can be expected if anyone tries to muscle in there with alternative ways of looking at it. They are so bloody stodgy. Working in psychiatry – which is a multi-billion dollar business (if we include the pharmacology side, which we pretty much have to of course) – one can’t but help being aware that this is true. Yet the subject itself (involving as it does such profound questions regarding the nature of consciousness and reality (both consensus and individual, so to speak) is of absolutely no interest at all to the professionals, academics and businessmen involved – they really couldn’t care less about such philosophical stuff, I would say. They care about their vested interests of course. These guys have no interest at all in the experience of what it actually feels like to be schizophrenic – you couldn’t talk to them about it (I wouldn’t say). Very different to a psychiatrist like RD Laing who was clearly fascinated by this, in a kind and personal rather than a clinic way.

    Going back to what you were saying about your own experiences as a child and teenager, it has occurred (not for the first time) that the darker the shadow (or the horror) the greater dis-identification that takes place after, like a rubber ball bouncing if you throw it at the floor very hard. I think there is something like that in a commentary I read on the Tibetan Book of the Dead. Can’t quite place it though. I just recorded this video which furthers our discussion on the Predator-Type business –

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