Wednesday, January 7, 2015

The cryptography of being, part III — some novel thoughts about consciousness, essence, and personality

Image from the Voynich manuscript
 The cryptography of Being suggests, in the end, that a fundamental law of the material world, as we see it, is that we cannot know. That is, there is a rich and extraordinary body of information within the material world; but it has two aspects, an inner and and outer aspect, and the two lawfully preclude one another; to know one in its entirety is to not know the other in its entirety, and vice versa. In both direction lies terra incognito; this situation reminds us, perhaps, strongly, of something Jeanne de Salzman says in her notes:

I learn to listen to the unknown in myself. I do not know, and I listen, constantly refusing each known response. From moment to moment, I recognize that I do not know, and I listen. The very act of
listening is a liberation. It is an action that does not flee the present, and when I know the present as it is, there is transformation. I go toward the unknown until I come to a moment when no thought moves my mind, when there is nothing outside myself. I do not know who I am. I do not know whence I came. I do not know where I will go. I doubt all that I know, and have nothing to rely on.
The Reality of Being, "Towards the Unknown," p. 163

 We are equally reminded of all the remarks made by the author of the Cloud of Unknowing.   The information about both the inner and the outer world we inhabit remains in a state of high entropy unless consciousness organizes it; it is one of the inherent qualities of human consciousness that it distinguishes order from apparent disorder, that is, the quality of consciousness is to lower entropy in its immediate vicinity. It is an act of conservation of information, rather than its dissipation.

Encryption itself is, as it happens, a form of anti-entropic activity; it imposes a higher level of order  (encryption) over an already existing order, in order to make that existing order look disordered. The peculiar contradiction of encryption is that it produces a result that doesn't look anything like what it actually is: and this, indeed, is exactly what the sages say the world is — a place that appears to be one thing, but it is, in fact, something entirely different altogether.

So the world that we inhabit, what we see, is encrypted information — an inwardly formed order that has been concealed by a further layer of order (reality) which distracts us from the actual nature of things. We can never entirely discern this nature, because as we unencrypt and translate one aspect of the matter— for example, outward reality— we are forced by natural law and the compulsion of circumstances to ever more deeply encrypt the other aspect.

 This leaves us exactly where Jeanne de Salzmann, Meister Eckhart, Gurdjieff, and the Buddhist masters — to name but a few — say we must stand: between two worlds, in the midst of a play of forces. We aren't helpless; but we need to recognize our powerlessness, or, as Gurdjieff might have put it, our nothingness. We are like interpreters that must learn two languages, each one of which is the exact opposite of the other: one mellifluous, beautiful, and flowing, the other guttural, staccato, grating.  This is, of course, reminiscent of Gurdjieff's Brother Sez and Brother Ahl. ( See Meetings with Remarkable Men, chapter 10, Professor Skridlov.) Brother Sez has a voice that sounds like the song of the birds in paradise; and Brother Ahl a voice indistinct with age. One speaks to the mind, or, personality; the other to the essence, that is, Being. The second, as Mr. Gurdjieff would have it, is far preferable to the first; and yet one must have them both — even as the monastery has both brothers living in it.

 How does Mr. Gurdjieff resolve this paradox for us? In the following passage:

One must strive to understand; this alone can lead to our Lord God.
And in order to  be able to understand the phenomena of nature, according and not according to law, proceeding around us, one must first of all consciously perceive and assimilate a mass of information concerning objective truth and the real events which took place on earth in the past; and secondly, one must bear in oneself all the results of all kinds of voluntary and involuntary experiencings.
— Meetings with Remarkable Men, G. I Gurdjieff, E.P Dutton & Company, 1963, page 242

 One must, in other words, employ both faculties: the mind, to perceive and assimilate information and data about the outward world, and the essence, in order to experience Being within oneself.

 The anti-entropic path, in other words, the one that decrypts the successive layers of mystery which life consists of, involves conscious action in both territories; and always, in an atmosphere of unknowing, of an abandonment of form—because this is the only action that can prevent us from degrading the two disparate flows of information.

 I doubt that the fact this coincides so neatly with questions of physics is an accident.


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