The universe in which we live consists only of life and postulates. The old word ‘postulate’ has recently come into use as an English-language equivalent of saṃskāra, in the sense of an act of will, decision, purpose, or causative consideration. Entities, identities, objects and masses are the product of postulates interacting in games, and can be resolved back into these postulates.
Stephens (1992) developed a process that demonstrates that anything we perceive as an object consists only of postulates. Resolve these postulates and it is found to disappear. Represented as an algorithm, the process is as follows:
1. Name the object, or living organism.
2. What is the function of a _____?
(or for an organism, What is the purpose of a _____?)
3. Timebreak anything that appears.
4. Return to 2.
If no more answers to 2,
5. What purposes have you had towards a _____?
6. Timebreak anything that appears.
7. Return to 5.
If no more answers to 5,
8. Return to 2
If no more answers to 2,
In steps 3 and 6, timebreaking is the basic process of handling memories by viewing them in present time as described by Stephens (1979). Essentially the person looks at the area of each purpose, perhaps asking themself “How do you feel about that?”, to find material to timebreak.
Although primarily a demonstration, this process may have some application in therapy. A person bothered by an irrational fear of spiders could erase “spiders” from their mind, and from their experience of the world. Or someone with a paraphilia for stiletto heels can erase “stiletto heels” – always supposing that they want to.
Stephens noted that it is quicker to erase an object by running it as the subject of the basic goals package (Know, Not Know, Be Known, Not Be Known), for example “Must know spiders” and so on. However, if the object is involved in gameplay with a junior goal such as ‘Eradicate’, it becomes imbued with a purpose from that goals package. It will not erase by making it the subject of the basic package as long as the person considers the junior goal to be separate from the basic package.
Finding all the purposes eliminates any junior goals packages that may involve this object. In the end you may be left with one of the four legs of the basic goals package as its “actual” purpose.
For example: Once I was bothered by recurring thoughts of a certain book that I had lost. I set out to erase this book from my mind using the algorithm above. The purposes that came off first were to do with the book as a collectible, as an ornament to admire, as a possession to be proud of, as property that might be sold at a profit. But the basic purpose of this book, or any book, is Be Known – it exists to make something known.
And whenever an object is erased, a complementary subject is necessarily erased as well. From the pratītyasamutpāda, we know that subjects and objects are mutually dependent. The observer and the observed form a unity (Spencer-Brown, 1969). So if a person runs the algorithm given above, the question “What purposes have you had…” will run out the postulates that they made in the class of self, just as “What is the purpose of …” runs out the complementary postulates that they consider the object to have. Erasing those scary spiders also erases the personality who was scared of spiders.
But don’t worry; everyone has a vast stack of personalities or selves that they have created by living out one game after another. Resolving the mind is like peeling pages one by one from a very thick notepad. If a person really did erase all their selves they would be in the condition that Buddhists call nirvāṇa; and I’ve never met anyone who has got that far.
Spencer-Brown, G. (1969) Laws of Form. (Allen & Unwin: London).
Stephens, D.H. (1979) The Resolution of Mind.
Stephens, D.H. (1992) The Unstacking Procedure. Audio recording of 3 November 1992, available here.
Take a look at whatever you call your “self”. Is it an entity with hard, permanent boundaries?
In my own experience, awareness extends across conceptual spaces that could be called fields, divided by boundaries that might be called discontinuities in awareness.
Michael Polanyi described a particular type of boundary in a series of publications in the 1960s. He introduced the theory of tacit knowledge, where information tacitly known at one level of reality is the basis of explicit understanding at a higher level. For example, whenever we read a text we are tacitly perceiving all the letters but normally notice only of the words or sentences that they spell. Many such levels may exist in a hierarchy, such as letters forming words according to rules of spelling, that form sentences according to the rules of grammar, that in turn carry meanings according to semantic rules.
Each level is a field containing a consistent set of concepts that is incomplete in that it allows its boundary to be ruled by the next higher level. The lower or proximal field contains things known tacitly but the distal field consists of things that are known explicitly, or are still unknown. The proximal field is experienced as self, the distal field as not-self or in other words the external world. For the purpose of this discussion I’ll call these Polanyi boundaries.
The old truism that anything has both an inside and an outside aspect is rediscovered from time to time. For example, the botanist Agnes Arber wrote that “The fact that each organism is both a unity intrinsic to itself, and also an integral part of the nexus which is the Whole, informs it with a basic duality.”
The subjective experience of being a self and separate from an external world – that is, the rest of the universe – was analysed by Gerbode in terms of the theory of tacit knowing. We tacitly know such things as the movement of our voluntary muscles, ideas with which we have identified, skills that have been learned and experiences internalised. All these things are within the aggregate that we think of as self. The other things that we perceive are considered to be separate from the self and therefore parts of an external world.
Another type of boundary that exists between opposing postulates in the mind was described by Stephens as occurring where postulate pairs such as “must know” and “must not be known” meet head-on like opposite flows forming a ridge, a mass that we experience as sensation. Such ridges might be called Stephens boundaries. Moreover, since one self-consciousness cannot simultaneously hold contradictory postulates, the boundary may effectively divide the mind into two fields that function as if they were independent entities.
Please note that I’m using the term postulate here to mean a causative thought, following the usage of Stephens and Gerbode, and before them of Hubbard. This isn’t quite the usual meaning of the term in English. Unfortunately, English doesn’t have any word that captures this concept exactly, and the Buddha’s Pali term saṅkhāra would be more precise. In Buddhist philosophy, saṅkhāra does not depend on self-consciousness but is actually a precondition for that consciousness.
At first sight, a Stephens boundary appears to separate a pair of entities that are both on the same level. The pair of postulates that define their boundary are not immediately recognisable as a rule imposed from a higher level that defines the boundary of the lower one.
But a Stephens boundary can also be seen as an instance of a Polanyi boundary. Both types of boundary represent an inconsistency that marks the limit of an internally consistent field. In fact, the contradictions between postulates are the source of the incompleteness or inconsistency that marks the boundary.
A pair of exactly opposed postulates forms a unity, just like the two ends of the same stick. More importantly, any Stephens boundary actually has higher and lower sides like a Polanyi boundary. The stick has a proximal and a distal end relative to the observer’s viewpoint.
The proximal field is experientially a self, which is normally a lower level field than the corresponding not-self. Self (the field of what we tacitly know) is a small portion of the whole universe (the field of what we explicitly know + what we tacitly know + everything that exists beyond our knowledge). In our everyday experience, the universe of discourse is whatever we perceive as the whole world. Any thing that we can readily view, including ourselves, is much smaller than the universe. Brotherhood with the universe can be a heady feeling when meditating under the summer stars, but taking that feeling too literally is the road to megalomania.
Any thing that we call our tacitly known “self” is an instance of what Stephens called a junior universe – an object that is selected as one side of a dichotomy, leaving the rest of the universe on the other side. Compulsive game playing compartmentalises a person into progressively smaller junior universes by successive dichotomies.
Could it be that a subjective sense of self arises from opposed postulates? If one being cannot hold both postulates simultaneously, there would be a division into self and not-self. The field of not-self can then be subdivided into various objects and even other living beings known as “them” or “you”.
Conversely, resolving the postulate opposition would resolve the perceived boundary of a self. An experimental test of this hypothesis would be to erase some contradictory postulates from one’s mind and observe what happens to the sense of self. Does it expand?
Arber, A. (1954) The Mind and the Eye: A study of the biologist’s standpoint. (Cambridge University Press).
Gerbode, F.A. (2013) Beyond Psychology: an Introduction to Metapsychology. 4th edn (Applied Metapsychology International Press: Ann Arbor).
Polanyi, M. (1968) Life’s irreducible structure. Science 160: 1308-1312.
Stephens, D.H. (1979) The Resolution of Mind: A Games Manual. (privately published: Sydney).
We all start out with assumptions that a few concepts are supposed to be self-evident. At first, basic English words like ‘self’ or ‘think’ or ‘know’ might not seem to need any definition or explanation. But as we get older we may find that not everyone understands these concepts in the same way.
Knowing is the English word from the same root as the Greek gnosis or the Sanskrit jñāna. Awareness, understanding, and even intelligence are close to being synonyms.
At the lowest level, facts stored in memory might be called knowledge. But a computer can’t be said to know anything, however much data is stored on its hard drive. Knowing presupposes that there’s someone there capable of being aware. And it’s possible to know without memory, as when one first has an experience before verbalising it or storing it in memory. Then there’s another way of knowing that is variously called mental modelling, visualising or imagining.
One model of the possible ways of knowing was devised by the Tantric branch of Buddhism about twelve centuries ago. They settled for a five-way classification, with the five jñāna (five wisdoms or knowledges) corresponding to the five elements into which the Buddha and his first followers had deconstructed the subjective experience of selfhood. Their terminology remains useful as long as English lacks rigorous definitions in this area.
- Analytical intelligence, recognising the differences between things and solving problems by breaking them down into their components. The Tantrics called this by the Sanskrit word pratyavekṣaṇajñāna. This process includes deduction as defined in formal logic, reasoning from the general to the specific and making predictions about concrete instances from general rules that have been previously established.
- Complementary to pratyavekṣaṇajñāna is the ability to recognise the similarities of things and group them into larger wholes. This is samatājñāna, which corresponds to classification or induction as it enables us to reason from the specific to the general, and induce concepts from observations or concrete examples.
- Let’s not forget practical intelligence or kṛtyanuṣṭhānajñāna. This has nothing to do with conceptualising, much less with verbalising, but rather with conscious action to accomplish the desired result. But it’s surely a form of intelligence: for example, the skill that an experienced musician develops in their hands. Instead of having to look for the next note to play as a beginner would, they go directly from the sound they have in mind to the necessary movement of their fingers.
- I’ve named this blog after the fourth kind of knowledge, ādarśajñāna. The literal meaning of this term, “mirror knowledge”, is a good metaphor, except that mirrors reverse right and left, and ādarśajñāna doesn’t make even this much alteration. It is awareness reflecting the thing observed, in its entirety, prior to any analysis or classification. Scientologists call it duplication, i.e. copying a datum or an action exactly.
- But the highest method of knowing is to simply be the thing you want to know. This is what the Tantrics called tathatājñāna, literally “knowledge of suchness”. While the other four might be called processes through which we gain knowledge, the fifth is the end goal where any distinction between an object of knowledge and its reflection in our awareness disappears. In Scientology this is called as-is-ness. At this point we truly know a thing inside and out, can use it, but don’t have to carry it around as a mental picture anymore.