Paul Beekman Taylor: Gurdjieff historian, author of Gurdjieff’s Invention of America,
The Philosophy of G.I. Gurdjieff, G.I. Gurdjieff: A New Life, Gurdjieff in the Public Eye,
Shadows of Heaven: Gurdjieff and Toomer, and Gurdjieff and Orage
Jan 10, 2008
Once more, the physical book is a wonder. The graphics are outstanding. . .. The value
of the book . . . is the clear and detailed relationship carefully outlined between current anatomical and physiological knowledge and the conception of the human brain Gurdjieff details in his writings. . . . It requires close and repetitive reading to grasp the implications of what Buzzell lays out before us. The graphics are important images of his ideas, and close attention to them is immensely rewarding. This is an essential reference book for anyone interested in Gurdjieff’s seemingly unique conception of the human brain.
Jan. 8, 2008
Overview This book is unique in the Gurdjieff tradition. It is an original contribution to the study of man, and a stepping stone to further study. The quality of thought displayed is so high as to itself provide a subtle and powerful impression. Dr. Buzzell’s avowed aim is to “blend a scientific perspective on the physical universe and on human biology with a perspective on the possibility of self-transformation as taught by G.I. Gurdjieff.” (p.131) These two domains: science and Gurdjieff’s teaching, have both practical and theoretical applications. Dr. Buzzell (hereafter “Buzzell”), a physician, musician and scientist, explores both applications, for he studies “the broad spectrum of human experiences that must be lived ….” (p. 131, all italics in quotes are found in the original). He invites the reader to “probe deeper,” to apply the fruits of these lived experiences and ideas in the Gurdjieff groups, and on that basis, to “share, to commune with, to support and to come into abiding relationship with each other.” (p.131) The author sets out ideas of sufficient depth, and of sufficient affinity to feeling, to first evoke our slumbering senses of intellectual curiosity and wonder, and then to provide vistas for future efforts. One might subtitle it, “how and why the brains in man form images, what those images do, and how this can be done in either a healthy or an unhealthy way.”
Art and Illustrations The cover is thicker than is usual with paperbacks. A blue netting design stretches over a light grey background. The centre is filled by a diagram in thin white lines, being a large circle with a slightly smaller circle concentrically placed within it, filled with a set of interlocking triangles. The three corners of the largest upright triangle are each marked by a blue cluster, roughly circular, but with soft edges. It is
as if the blue netting of the background is gathered into the white outlined circles and concentrated at these three corners. The design is redolent of space/time not being uniform, but concentrated by massy objects. We sense harmony, geometry, law, manifestation and peaceful transition in its imagery of simple forms meeting to casemore complex forms and concentrations to arise.
The page before the table of contents bears one of the many full colour illustrations which grace this volume. Below it lies the dedication, “For All Our Children and Grandchildren.” The ideas in this book are links in a chain which began even before Gurdjieff. The book as a whole fills a place, and carries forward, a broad tradition which flows down from a great horizon. In a deft manner, the illustrations for this book, but especially the front cover, reflect the insight that both the perspectives of modern science and Gurdjieff’s ideas “herald a startlingly new view of our Universe.” (p. 3)
The book is organized into an introduction and four chapters. Each of these is preceded
by a page bearing a few short quotations. Each of those pages is grey with a geometric figure, perhaps one could call it an unfolded triangle, ghosted in white lines. Numerous diagrams, some in colour, are provided. One has only to open the volume to see that the publisher does not just keep a commercial eye on the packaging: as one can fairly say of most presses. Rather, the press, its artists, editors, author and staff, have collaborated in an endeavour at once scientific, artistic and crafted.
Contents The introduction asks: what is new since the time of Gurdjieff? The answer
is found in the “technological application of the principles of relativity and quantum mechanics,” what Buzzell calls “new motions” (pp.3-4). This makes possible, among
other things, the new imaging technologies of television, computer terminals, video games, internet, etc., pumping out images which the brain must take as real (pp.5-6). These present reality in a manner and at a speed which is not natural to our three brains.
I can see the effects of this, I believe, with University students. They want everything
now (as stated at p.6). They do not want to learn gradually over a semester, acquire the component parts and learn how to make a whole of them, they want someone to give
them answers they can copy down without thinking. And they are sometimes emotion-
ally volatile to a point of group-hysteria. I had already thought that the “entertainment” industry, compressing the events of days, weeks and even years into an “action-packed”
90 minutes has had a part in this. Gurdjieff made similar observations in his chapter
on “Art,” but the situation has deteriorated since his time, and Buzzell illustrates how
and why. As he states, the ideal or natural “time-of-relationship” for people is slower
than what we presently allow (p.7). As Buzzell indicates, the possibility of personal transformation depends upon how the brains intentionally digest the images they form (p.8). And like every process, this has a time. If we squander it, if that time is not respected, nature does not give us that period over again. For example, if the fingers are not differentiated in time, the body “continues its surge towards overall completion and
makes compromises around uncompleted parts,” and each brain does the same (p. 6).
Chapter 1 is titled “New Concepts.” In 1915 Gurdjieff’s idea of man as a three-brained
being was, “revolutionary” (p.11). In the 1950s, the idea of the triune brain was independently introduced to contemporary science by Maclean, who used the term “mentation” for “a brained process” just as Gurdjieff did. However, Maclean’s work
is not influential in today’s neuroscience (p. 12). The appearance of “brained” beings represents “the Great Turning” (p. 13):
This turning consisted of the evolution of biological mechanisms (one-brained beings) which could construct sensory images of a resonant portion of the forms and energies of the world external to itself.
Both Gurdjieff’s theory of ‘hydrogens’ and modern chemistry recognize the significance
of electromagnetic bonding energies in holding “states of matter” together (p. 14). As Buzzell correctly notes, the existence of other galaxies was not recognized until the late 1920s (p. 15), yet other galaxies are acknowledged in the Ray of Creation, (e.g., Miraculous p. 80). I agree with him that these anticipations of modern science are extraordinary. Buzzell takes the study of ‘hydrogens’ further than I have elsewhere seen, and explains how H48 and 24 can now be seen to represent neural impulses and associative neural nets, respectively, unknown substances in 1915 (pp.16-7). With H12:
… the procreative (or germinative) matter/energy enters. It can also be understood as the first of Gurdjieff’s ‘spiritual’ matters. … At the physical body level of procreation, it is the higher force at the essentially solar level of new creation – in the new, hydrogen-bonded linkages of our DNA.
The role of H12 in the development of individuality gives an objective basis for the analogy between sun and “real I.” It also provides a startlingly concrete dimension to Gurdjieff’s concept, passed on orally, of “creating sun in oneself.” A table of matters on p. 18 shows how each hydrogen relates to the substances known to science, for example, H6 corresponds to galactic “cloud” interaction, and H12 to the state of plasma. My study of
the ancient solar theology had already shown me that Gurdjieff’s many references to the sun were intended literally as well as metaphorically.
Buzzell also studies one of the most sadly neglected aspects of the ideas, the triads.
In particular, he has an illuminating passage about the triad of transformation, 2-1-3 (pp.24-5). I have been collating the diverse indications on the triads, and Buzzell’s exposition absolutely confirms and extends what I have been able to piece together. His insight that “presence has a distinct and unique quality within each of the three forces
of the triad …” explains something which is missing in Ouspensky’s account, and which
I sensed had to be missing – but I could not see where the gap was. Now I can. This ends chapter 1.
Chapter 2 deals with “The Triune Brain.” Buzzell brings a new perspective to faith and hope, explains “wholing” (pp.30-1), images and resonance (pp.32-3), and while he does not refer to Gurdjieff here, his comments on vision (p. 34) elucidate why Gurdjieff privileged sight (at pp. 468-75, the white ray of light corresponds to the ‘common-integral vibration of all sources of actualizing’, etc.). Buzzell goes on to deal with the other senses, both outer and inner, and his treatment of smell is particularly fascinating (pp. 36 and 43). He writes of the “sense of I,” the Great Traditions and their ossification, and the scientific method, summing up the chapter with “life” (p. 59).
Chapter 3, “Consciousness as the Coalescence of Images” shows how “awareness of
various aspects of the world at and beyond the body surface is the most elemental or simple conscious state” (p. 70). In doing so, Buzzell adds further layers to what he has written about the brain and the senses; noting the sense of smell at p. 66. This chapter brings one to a sense of wonder at the image-making capacities of brained beings, the workings of association, memory, time, and the development of language. Buzzell’s pregnant comments on language at p. 75 open new vistas on Gurdjieff’s remarks in and . Over several pages, Buzzell describes how each brain receives impressions, forms images and associations, contributes to a different
experience of time and to the development of human capacities. Then, at pp. 78-9, he shows how although PET and MRI can show how different parts of the brain act when listening, nonetheless, we are not aware of that process but of the “coalescence of image.” When that image is one of lawfulness in the external world, the scientific method is possible (pp. 79 and 81, and illustrations 8 and 10). At the end of the chapter, Buzzell treats of “attention” and “will,” of which he says:
…The Will, when understood as a truly independent source of decisioning … is higher (in potency) than impulse, image, consciousness or attention. We assign the potency of the Will to the em-force itself. (p. 87)
One has the feeling by now, that the black and white outline of the Ray of Creation we know from Ouspensky is being coloured in. Chapter 4 is headed: “The Digestion of Food, Air and Impressions: A Metaphor for Human Transformation.” Perhaps the nub of the book is here. Buzzell stresses that Gurdjieff’s discussion of these topics is metaphorical, and that even the Ray must be understood in such a way. I might add a personal comment: I received a shock for my understanding when I read Buzzell’s comment on the note SI, “freedom from the past, blending of outer and inner” (p. 94). Then follows one of the most important elaborations ofI could imagine. First, the magnificent colour diagram on p. 96 does something I should have done for myself long ago, and charts the development of the air and impressions octaves beyond what is in . The lengthy treatment of the foods, the processes to which they correspond, and which cosmic phenomena relate to the hydrogens at each level is, to my mind, an essential direction for anyone trying to make Gurdjieff’s ideas practical for themselves. What Buzzell does is clothe the abstract black and white lines of the food diagram from in flesh, blood, oxygen, vitamins, hormones, and other things besides. The treatment of impressions as food probably does not say so much which many of us have not already suspected: but it is put together and explained with an authority and conciseness.
This last chapter includes some interesting points and quotations, such as one from Tracol (p. 108). It holds together rather nicely, while covering many aspects of food ingestion and digestion, and relating it to the conscious evolution of man, this triune-brained being. One thing which I think might supplement the treatment of breathing (p. 112) is a reference to the subtle pauses in breathing. These pauses, and indeed, the entire rhythm of the breath, are important in the digestion of the air, one’s emotional state and indeed the tempo and state of one’s body. Gurdjieff’s second-generation pupils are unwise if they ignore this. However, Buzzell appreciates the importance of Gurdjieff’s exercises (see pp. 112-3 for details). One will not persevere with the exercises, even if one has the good fortune to receive them, unless one knows of their significance and so values them.
Once the three foods have entered the body (and I suspect that the ingestion of impressions actually begins in the atmosphere of the body) the digestive products of the three foods are blended within the body’s inner circulation (pp. 116-7, pointing directly to Gurdjieff’s “blending” exercises). The three food octaves can, with the aid of the first conscious shock, come to the triad RE24, FA24, LA24 (p. 118). Conscious images are made of H24, he can even say that for us H24 is conscious images (extrapolating from pp.119-20). With this shock and its conscious images, there appears a presence or inner witness (p. 119).
This leads to the critical point
The effort to maintain the separation of a presence from the created images is the key to the potency inherent in self-remembering. If one loses this state of separation, identificationwith the image instantly takes place … (p. 119)
Without this separation, the Sacred Dances, which Buzzell says can represent “attentioned movement” (p. 121) would be gymnastics. The book then moves on to what may be the most important part, the treatment of the second conscious shock.
Corrigenda Of course, there are some typographical errors, but not many. The contents reads “coalition” for “coalescence”; p. 55 line 6, read “in” before “vention”; p. 62 paragraph
1, place a full stop after “independently.”
Comments It must be clear that I consider this an important book. As I stated above, I do think that everyone who wishes to come to the best practical understanding of Gurdjieff’s ideas and methods possible for them must engage with these issues: thus the third being-obligolnian-striving. This does not mean that they must read this volume. But when it is available, why not? And if it is found difficult, and it is difficult in parts, that is a challenge. Although Buzzell has qualified himself as an Oskianotsner ( p. 1122), he cannot fulfil this role without readers who will study not just the book but the developing legacy from which it has flowed
Some people affect to despise theories, they say they just want practice. This is juvenile. Could one imagine any scientist, let alone a Pooloodjistius, who had never studied theory, had no maths no physic no chemistry, but said, “let me loose in the laboratory”?