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Basarab Nicolescu GURDJIEFF AND SYSTEMIC THOUGHT This paper was written as the chapter on Gurdjieff for the

Encyclopedie des Sciences Esoterique Editions Quillet. The biographical introduction has been omitted from this translation.

1 Gurdjieff and Systemic Thought In 1912, when Gurdjieff appeared again in Moscow and St. Petersburg after long journeys in Central Asia, Africa, and the Middle East, his teaching was already fully formed. Modern science -had just . "been "born. In 1900, Max Planck introduced the theory of "the fundamental quantum of energy," which was to revolutionize the concept of physics, up till then "based on the idea of continuity; according to this new theory, energy had a discrete, discontinuous structure. In 1905, Einstein formulated his Special Theory of Relativity, which revealed a new .relation "between space and time which was to contribute to a radical reversal in the hierarchical relation of entity and energy. Gradually, the idea of particle was to "be replaced "by that of "event," of "relation," and of "interconnection," the real movement "being-that of energy. Quantum mechanics was established as a theory only much later, around 1930, upsetting the concept of the .identity of the classic particle a discrete identity as a part separate from the whole. For the first time, the possibility of a discontinuous space-time was recognized as logically valid. At last, the new theory of elementary particles was in the process of formation in our epoch, carrying quantum mechanics and the theory of relativity further, and at the same time trying to go beyond them. As astonishing as it might seem, Gurdjieff's thought anticipated the evolution of contemporary scientific ideas, not in a vague and poetic manner-but by a precise and rigorous method. Gurdjieff had a great respect for "corporeality" for the "signs" which are found in Nature. "Everything in the Universe is material," said Gurdjieff, "therefore the Great Knowledge is more materialistic than materialism."'' Certainly, he made a distinction between "matter" and "materiality," and he introduced the idea of "degrees of materiality": "Matter is the same, but materiality is different. And different degrees of materiality depend directly upon the qualities and properties of the energy manifested at a given point."2 "Particles" will then be the local configurations of energy. Gurdjieff conceived of the universe as. a great whole, a vast cosmic matrix where everything is in perpetual dynamic movement and structuring: "Everything issuing from Everything and again entering into Everything."5 This unity is not static; it implies differentiation and diversity: "One of the most central ideas of objective knowledge ... is the idea of the unity of everything, of unity in diversity. ... But for subjective consciousness, the world is split up into millions of separate and unconnected phenomena. Attempts to connect these phenomena into some sort of system in a scientific or .a philosophical way lead to nothing "because men cannot reconstruct the Idea of .the whole starting from separate facts and they cannot divine the principles of the division of the whole without knowing the laws upon which this division is based."4 Thus Gurdjieff formulates some "ide-forces" which are found again, a half-century later, in systemic science, which tries to extrapolate the most general laws of natural systems.6 Contrary to reductionism, which -explains diversity "by a substance common to different systems, Gurdjieff speaks of a common organization, owing to the laws of "division of the whole" (the Law of Three and the Law of Seven, which will be discussed later). At the same time these laws ensure the in

variance of the structure of energy and so the stability of natural systems. In short, the different systems are not simply the sum of their parts. The mutual relationships between their parts are a reflection of the openness of a system considered in relation to other systems, in a perpetual and universal exchange of energy. It is precisely this exchange which ensures what Gurdjieff calls "the common-system-harmony,"7 "the common-system-harmonious-movement,"8 or "the harmony of reciprocal maintenance of all cosmic concentrations."9 The openness of a system retards its degeneration and death. Nonseparability is the safeguard of life. It is well known that every isolated physical "system is subject to the principle of Clausiu's-Carnot, which posits the inevitable degradation of energy, an increasing disorder. For order and stability to exist, there must be openness and exchange. This exchange can operate between systems of one and the same scale or between systems belonging to different scales. It is not impossible that the profound meaning of the "uncertainty relationships" of Heisenberg is connected with exchanges between the world of particles and other worlds of a different scale. Moreover, it is reasonable to suppose that there is a relationship between the systemic unity of the world and the meaning of Goedel's theorem (1931) concerning the structure of mathematics: a system of axioms that is self-sufficient and without any internal contradiction is necessarily open and will always give accurate results, even if they are not demonstrable. Thus a closed system that is complete is necessarily a contradiction in terms. "Everything eats something and is eaten by something," said Gurdjieff.10 He gives the name of "Trogoautoegocratic process" to the process which ensures the "reciprocal feeding" of everything that exists, and which is "the true savior from the law-conformable action of the merciless Heropass." 11 And when we know that with Gurdjieff "Heropass" means Time, we can understand the deep meaning of his statement: the unity of the indefinite sequence of systems escapes the action of time; it is, outside of space-time. The space-time continuum is thus a kind of approximation, a subjective phenomenon, bound to a subsystem, when it is considered by itself. Each subsystem corresponds to a certain "degree of materiality" and possesses its own space-time. Time, that "Ideally-Unique-subjective-phenomenon, "12 as such, does not exist: "there is only the totality of the results ensuing from all the cosmic phenomena present in a given place."15 The time associated with a subsystem will be the "breath"14- that is characteristic of this particular subsystem in the unity of the universe. Gurdjieff*s "Trogoautoegocratic process" presents remarkable analogies "to the "bootstrap" theory of physics, formulated around 1960 by the American physicist Geoffrey Chew. The "bootstrap" theory is a dynamic law according to which the characteristics and attributes of a definite physical entity are the result of interaction with other particles existing in nature: a particle is what it is because of all other particles existing at that instant. The "bootstrap theory" conceives of nature as a global entity, nonseparable at a basic level, without any "complexity." Complexity gives rise to observable reality; and the "real" world, with its own space-time continuum, thus appears as an "approximation." According to this theory, the description of physical Reality calls for the introduction of dimensions other than those of space-time. For a universal interconnection and a permanent exchange to be possible, each system must possess a certain degree of "intelligence" and "subjectivity." For Gurdjieff, "Nothing is dead or inanimate in nature, there are simply different degrees of animation and different scales.... All the matter we know is living matter and in its own way, it is intelligent."15 Contemporary science has barely begun to discover this fundamental truth. The stupefying quantity of information found on the scale of the infinitely small shows that it is. practically impossible to draw the line between the living and the non-living. The quantum particle has its own subjectivity and its own intelligence in the complex relationships of perpetual combat and of continual creation and annihilation which it maintains with all other particles. Thus it can equally be understood why Gurdjieff, like Kepler, considered that the earth, the moon, the sun, and the planets are "living beings" and that organic life

represents "the organ of perception of the earth" and, at the same time, "an organ of radiation.". Man himself is a link in this majestic cosmic chain. His life plays a -role in "the reciprocal maintenance of all that exists."17 In this sense he can be characterized as a "transmitting station of forces."18 Man does not live in one world only, but in several worlds at once, contained one within another, a veritable "system of systems" as Lupasco would say. Man is therefore an image of the world. "Man has everything within him. I have .inside me the sun, the moon, God. I amall life in its totality. "To understand one must know oneself."19 Man possesses relative "freedom" as a participant in a self-organizing subsystem (the earth). But at the same time, he must submit to laws which regulate the interaction between systems. The unavoidable result of systems of systems in interaction is evolution, the growth of order and of the structuring of energy. Consequently man is an "unfinished world."20 jje evolve or disappear: "the evolving part of organic life is humanity....If humanity does not evolve it means that the evolution of organic life will stop and this in its turn will cause the growth of the ray of .creation to stop....In this way the cessation of evolution may mean the destruction of humanity."21 Gurdjieff accords a great importance to cosmology: "...it is possible to say that science and philosophy, in the true meaning of these terms, begin with the idea of cosmoses. "22 Each manifestation must be understood according to its place in the cosmic order and with respect to its relation to other manifestations. The idea of scale is crucial to an understanding of the structure of the universe. In a word, the dynamics of the whole is the result of the action of the Law of Three and the Law of Seven united in the universal symbol of the enneagram. 2. THE LAW OF THREE, THE LAW OF SEVEN AND THE "ENNEAGRAM" According to Gurdjieff, there is a very limited number of fundamental laws of "world-creation and world-maintenance" which "regulate all processes, in the world and in man."23 The fundamental laws of the universe in Gurdjieff's cosmology are "the Law of Three" (three forces, or three principles) and "the Law of Seven" (or "law of octaves"). Prom the beginning, this idea of a limited number of general laws is very interesting. It establishes a new method which can be called "hypothetico-deductive." Foreseen by Kepler, it has been rediscovered by contemporary science: we postulate a certain limited number of laws, often very abstract and mathematical, and thus, far removed from directly observable reality; we deduce the consequences of these laws and then we compare these consequences with experimental data. The inverse method, by means of which we try to deduce the general laws from experimental data, belongs to sciences which are not yet mathematized.. The hypothetico-deductive method is adapted to a systemic study of the world. There are certainly specific laws, of "detail," characterizing each level of Reality; but general laws are common to all levels, all "scales" of Reality. Man himself, then, is an image of Reality: " ...the study of man and the study of the world support each other. In studying the universe and its laws, a man studies himself, and in studying himself he studies the universe."24 a) The Law of Three In Gurdjieff's cosmology, Reality has a threefold structure, determined "by the action of the "Law of Three" or "Triamazikamno": "...a law which always flows into a consequence and becomes the cause of subsequent consequences, and always functions by three independent and quite opposite characteristic manifestations, latent within it, in properties neither seen nor sensed."25 This law comprises three independent forces: an "affirming force" ("pushing force" or "force plus"), a "denying force" ("resisting force" or "force minus"), and a "reconciling force" ("equilibrating force" or "neutralizing force"). Gurdjieff emphasizes that in reality these three forces are equally active;

their character of "affirmation," of "negation," or of "reconciliation" appears only at the moment of their meeting. Reality is engendered by contradiction, which is nothing more nor less than the dynamic of these three forces, present simultaneously in every real phenomenon. "Only a conflict between two sides is worth something," says Gurdjieff. "Only conflict, argument, may produce a result."26 Reality has therefore a dialectic structure - or more precisely "trialectic," with one or other of the three forces predominating. Gurdjieff, in Beelzebub's Tales to His Grandson, shows in a direct way this trialectic thought through "The omnipresent active element" called "Okidanokh." This represents the union of the three forces, which can never "be perceived "by beings or sensed by them" and which undergoes a separation into its three constituent forces at the moment of entering into a given cosmic crystallization. The Okidanokh is the 'Holy1 element which "aids the actualizing of the functioning.. .of Objective and Divine Reason. "27 Gurdjieff emphasizes that although it is easy to observe the contradiction in every phenomenon between affirmation and negation, it is nevertheless more difficult to observe and understand the third force, the reconciling force: "The reason for this is to be found in the functional limitations of man's ordinary psychological activity and in the fundamental categories of our perception of the phenomenal world, that is, in our sensation of space and time resulting from these limitations."28 In other words, the reconciling force manifests itself in a space different from the time-space continuum which contains our "reality." It is a "liberating" and "spiritualizing" factor. Could this third force be the source of discontinuity, of nonseparability, of nonlocality? In any case, if contemporary science is a treasure-trove of "systems" and "antisystems" (particles-antiparticles, quarks- antiquarks, matter-antimatter, etc.), it contains much less material concerning the simultaneous existence of a "neutralizing system." However, the recent recognition of the necessity, in certain theories of physics, of a larger space than the space-time continuum may constitute a first indication of the manifestation of the third force. The fact that these theories try to unify all known physical interactions is worth noting. It is also important to emphasize that Lupasco's trialectic, developed from a generalization of the properties of quantum systems, offers remarkable analogies with Gurdjieff's Law of Three. The Lupasco triads actualization-potentialization-the "T-state" (from "included middle"29), and homogenization-hetero-genization-"T-state" are possible aspects of the Law of Three. Like Gurdjieff, who stated that "unity consists of three matters"30, Lupasco also speaks of "three matters" but in a more limited sense: macrophysical, biological, and "quantic" (the latter in microphysical or psychic form). Another light on the Law of Three can also be found in the philosophy of Peirce with his categories of "firstness," "secondness," and "thirdness." The threefold structure of Reality is inscribed in man himself. In one sense, man is the realization of this threefold structure. Gurdjieff held that that which distinguishes man from other entities in nature is the fact of his having three "brains," three "centers": the thinking center (the seat of affirmation), the moving center (the seat of negation), and the emotional center (the seat of reconciliation). The three corresponding brains are localized in the head, the spine, and the solar plexus.31 Man's whole life is a continual battle of these three brains with each other. The predominance of one or another leads to destruction and death (the "death by thirds" spoken of by Gurdjieff).32 Harmony signifies the balance' of the three, the attainment of an "all-brained-balanced"33 state. At that moment, the work of spiritual alchemy can begin. Otherwise, men transmute in themselves only the "negative principle" and so consist of "the planetary body alone and thus are, for themselves, destroyed forever."34 So, for Gurdjieff, knowledge is the function of only one center, while being is the function of all three centers. This threefold structure is reflected in man in many ways. Thus, there are three bodies possible for man: besides the ordinary ("planetary") body, there are the "Kesdjan body" and the ....

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