We always have intimations to the measure of our capacity, even if we neglect them for the benefit of other more exchangeable and mundane currencies. When I was a child I dreaded Sunday evenings; something in me sensed the unfathomable mediocrity of the world of the elders and their dull flight from boredom. However I was never at odds with the dreamy grayness of the asphalt or with the implausible trees that cross it, and now I understand that discomfort came more than anything from not disposing of my own time, because those who do it always find ways to deceive themselves. Over the years, the Sunday evening has become the time of the week that I appreciate most, and although I rarely honor it as I would like, it still opens a window in my mind out of the wheel of repetition.
The first time I was able to realize that this suspended interval can say something different had to be the Sunday afternoon of June 23 of 1985, under grave but not serious, intimately familiar circumstances. I remember the heat, the rays of sunlight filtering through the corded blind at the guesthouse, the complicit solitary waiting and that old television tune coming from some neighboring room that broke the silence at a given moment. The impression that afternoon left on me was so imperceptible that it took me twenty-five years to identify it as something of its own, to understand from what regions it flowed.
Unlike other calendar arbitrations, and with very rare exceptions, the sequence of the days of the week has known no interruptions in more than two thousand years; something that has had to leave its groove in the collective feeling. It is hard to believe that the social engineers, whose perversity never exceeds their foolishness —although that is not reassuring at all— have not launched a campaign to destroy this decayed relic once and for all, but in case we are suggesting improper ideas, as compensation we need to propose something in the opposite direction.
In days of yore, people who could be alone without boredom considered themselves intelligent; now that we are all entertained and alone without realizing it, there is practically no term of comparison. And in spite of everything, boredom continues to leave on people’s faces the unmistakable mark of its devastation, aggravated in the long hours of the afternoons in which one does not know what to do. We complain about the brevity of life, but when in the whirlpool of consciousness doldrums arise as a modest transcript of eternity in time, we can’t stand it. It is not the same to imagine exploring the infinite as letting the infinite pass through you.
Anyone can circumvent boredom by doing anything, but few welcome it and wait to see what it has to tell us. Boredom comes from the predictability of repetition, from anticipating something that has not yet happened, and from trying to avoid something already present; what desolates the vulgar mind is not the presence, never sufficiently valued, but what we may call its imaginary component. Evasion and avoidance are almost the same word, although this evidence also evades us.
Someone imagined that Abraham, father of the multitude, asked his close friend, «And how is it that you are God?» Or put another way, «How do you do to be God?» It can be assumed that the patriarch, who had bargained with God over the number of righteous men in a city, was not asking him for his credentials. And the only answer such a God can give, in full agreement with that other answer that anyone, religious or atheist, could imagine hearing —“I do nothing at all”- is silence. Silence and an imaginary answer that should please us were we able to listen without words.
Gods and Titans may be eternally striving to overthrow their rivals and seize power, like any wannabe tyrant or any political party; but a unique God could only be unique if he had never had to do anything to be unique or claim anything for itself. Surely this is why some have distinguished between God and the Godhead. But we see that I, the World and God —or the I, the World and the Law— coexist as evanescent moments of the same illusion, and that in vain we pretend to rid ourselves of one when we still believe in the reality of the others. And so one can see today men of science trying to convince us that the self or consciousness arises from neurons and molecules; this is of course a misunderstanding, but where is there anything that is not.
One can put aside the world for a moment, which will never deign to answer our questions directly, to ask to oneself: «And what do I do to be I, or even to know that I am I?» And the answer can only be the same as that of Abraham’s intimate friend, so different from the God who promises an offspring as numerous as the dust of the earth: nothing at all, but on that everything depends. It is worth thinking, too, that no other is the arcane of sovereignty and power, especially when we know that all those who claim it the last thing they could afford is doing nothing.
“Abraham’s secret question» and the inevitable answer it brings forth is infinitely more eloquent than any ontological argument about the existence of God or any attempt to finish off his ghost, a recurrent and endless task for those who believe in their own Self, in the World, or in the independent existence of the Law. It has been said that the pretension of demonstrating the existence of God, the key of modern theology since Anselm, contains in itself the rest of the pretensions that later science has been deploying in rigorous order of delirium. In any case, they have arisen from the same pathos, and now that science has been entirely engulfed by power, for which it was always predisposed, it is time to find a less harmful key.
That consciousness is voidness and that there can be nothing below it is, like the answer to Abraham’s question, something that leaves no room for doubt and yet where uncertainty reigns supreme. One can thus understand the preference for the scientific method, where doubt and certainty are permanently negotiated and always leave loose ends to be tied up. One might think that a science that contemplates movement from the immobile and action from non-action would be really unprecedented; but that is already what happens, and rather we should see how this can happen.
Nothing comes from nothing, but it may well be that what does something ceases to do it, or that what seems to do something is only compensating some kind of reciprocal motion. Our science, as the heir of the multitude and dust, insists on ignoring the possibility of the latter and tries to convince us of the first and most basic impossibility. So much talk about the inviolability of energy conservation to conclude without blinking that everything came out from nowhere. It is like those guys of the Federal Reserve who assure us there is no free lunch, but for themselves; or like the bankers who say that they cannot give without guarantees when the one who creates the money is the one who asks for the credit. Thus cosmology is in good company, and besides, who does not prefer to think that we are something rather than nothing? Positive science can be the best ally of credulity.
Half a century ago even mathematicians protested against the Vietnam War; today it is not easy to explain how one can be a scientist and have a conscience without leaving the field. But of course it is understandable, as the disposition of science did not start yesterday and has acquired an allegedly unstoppable inertia. For the scientist to stop being the complete nullity he secretly is today, he would have to want other things. Leaving the field or an indefinite general strike would not change anything even if that were possible. Do they predict that artificial intelligence will soon replace the mathematician at proving theorems? Why not, maybe then he would rethink what he wants to devote his intelligence to. Meanwhile, the mathematician himself is the best available imitation of that long-awaited machine.
One is incurably optimistic, although for reasons different from those of the average scientist. He can feed the illusion that he is both serving society and shaping it with little concern for the contradiction that this implies in general and for his own formation in particular, but here we would like to imagine for a moment that another kind of purpose is beginning to emerge. As long as he remains so busy, the man of science will never cease to be the instrument and façade of another far more concentrated power. Of course, there is always great room for autonomy, but what good will it do even to a mathematician, the most immaterial of researchers, when in his own field he ends up bowing to the «powerful methods». We never stop to think about what this means. Can truth or reality depend on how powerful our methods are?
But the most powerful means of a theory is the analogy, and the analogy proceeds by assimilation. Some say that science, always so modest, does not raise ultimate questions as philosophy does, but is content to solve problems that have solutions. Now, not only we made too much of ultimate problems in philosophy, but, under the pretext that its speculations are clothed in calculable forms, science too has stretched its own problems to infinity, to the point of absurdity and even beyond the ridiculous. And furthermore, as we have ceased to give credit to thought for the ultimate questions, now the sciences themselves want to answer in their characteristic proactive style why the world, life or consciousness exist.
From the point of view of appearances, it is unquestionable that things have their origin and becoming. But it is science itself that evacuates the question of how phenomena come to be what they are, and replaces it with a subsidiary why that should fill the void left by the when and how much to which prediction responds. Only by attending to the how could we see how action connects with non action and how the mundane exists within that. Our well-oiled science neither cares about the how of Nature nor wants to show the how of its own procedures; it cares about both as much as the banksters care about explaining how money is actually created and how it could be created without their schemes and machinations.
If current science, which only understands motion and action, pretends to assimilate even that which does absolutely nothing, such as consciousness, a reciprocal movement is also possible in which consciousness assumes this same science and tries to bring it to its own plane and reality. Here we have seen some of the wider avenues to make this assumption viable in the theory itself by starting from a homogeneous medium, by modifying the principles of mechanics or calculus, by considering other aspects of the idea of equilibrium, or by properly addressing morphology and individuation. That there is always room for this theoretical transmutation of principles, means and interpretations should be beyond doubt; but of this theory one also should ask what is its sphere of «technical application», and even more so what kind of practice entails.
There is a virtue and an efficacy in trying to see Nature from the side of non-action, a certain providential pertinence, which we have not yet begun to contemplate. The fact that all that is valued today in science pales before the calamity it has already become ensures that it has another value that we are not in a position today to reintegrate into our life; but the indispensable reciprocal movement tends once again to make these conditions possible if we succeed in granting it a space. Physics and mathematics have wanted to make an object out of emptiness and nothingness in a thousand different ways, but non-action, not to be confused with inaction, has little to do with this type of objectifications.
The laws by which man circumscribes the processes of Nature enact limits that must not be exceeded; non-action, on the other hand, adheres obscurely to «that which cannot be exceeded» at all, or cannot be exceeded without a corresponding reaction. If in practice it reveals itself as that in which there is neither an active nor a passive subject, in the principle itself it translates into pure indistinction between action and reaction. But even if this seems extremely vague it still has a specific translation in the domain of mechanics as a proper time of action and as another intelligence of cause and its absence.
The way of action to arrive at non-action is self-deceptive and virtually endless; techno-science, on the other hand, tries to exploit natural inaction to the maximum and convert it into action, but non-action has no opposites. Human law is teleology in disguise; it is enough to think of the whole modern theory of potential to see that man has hidden his own ends in it and has pretended that this is the very purposelessness of Nature. How to undo such a tenacious misunderstanding?
Think for a moment of the dreams of quantum computation and all its accompanying hype. Is it not a matter of exploiting the non-separability of potentials to obtain explicit calculations? Of exploiting inaction for action? All it takes is a timely technological war not to even question to what extent this may make sense. And yet there exists in calculus a certain special function, studied to exhaustion but surely even more ignored, that could be telling us in detail how action is subsumed in non-action. Even the dubious «quantum computation» could much more easily be put at the service of reading this magna encyclopedia of non-action than at the service of increasingly arbitrary ends. But, here as in everything else, would it not be infinitely preferable to seek the essence of this non-action rather than to entertain oneself with an endless study? It only remains to ask how it is that non-action matters; even if what it holds is not something that needs to be revealed or made manifest.
Non-action and true activity coincide with a greater certainty than that of any demonstrable truth; but if we are unable to conceive this, neither can we conceive of the nucleus of activity either in external Nature or in our own nature; and because we are so far from knowing their common background, to remove the capital letter from the external side of the equation is as pretentious as to believe that physics has unraveled their mysteries. With respect to this activity, physical action would be just a transfer or transaction. But it is not so much a matter of asphyxiating this other certainty with new concepts as of making it less inconceivable to our web of unreality. The worldly powers are interested in the separation of these two natures and does all in their hands to maintain it; but in no way can prevent us from reestablishing the links.
Non-action is absence of intention, but without intention a closed mechanical system is untenable. The difference between one thing and the other may seem too subtle but on the other it has an extreme potential for controversy, because what should be something diaphanous and lucid remains suffocated like a subterranean fire. A polemic that could only arise from the friction involved in ignoring that both fires are one, and although it is always preferable to avoid it, the degree of dullification of the intelligence in the mechanical makes it necessary to bring its apparent contrast to the foreground.
It seems as if both knowing and not knowing and not wanting to know have all taken the wrong turn. Enlightenment was promoted as the end of childhood, but sticking to what is indubitable, however uncertain it may be, takes us on the path of life and on the path of return that is one with it; while negotiating certainties and doubts at convenience takes us away from that path and leads us, as now we can see, to an increasing infantilization. Long ago, a poet philosopher painted a predictable retired pope, but although it was no less predictable, the pre-retired scientist managed by the administrator has taken us by surprise. In order not to be retired or exhibited like a trophy, the genuine researcher has no choice but to find his own place of retirement from all that competitive and entertaining hustle and bustle. And that place does not pass through the intrigues in the management of the great apparatus, but through the most intimate reconsideration of his own object, because that is the space that the theoretician has to open if he wants to be something more than a managed asset.
The sciences always have room to free themselves from the tutelage of power, if they are capable of conceiving another power within their theory, their application and their practice. If this is achieved, the relationship between knowledge and power can still be reversed in a spontaneous and indeliberate manner, since power, how not, also aspires to the advantages of not doing without having to apply the remedy to itself, much less to practice it.