G. I. Gurdjieff
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Gurdjieff / London 1922; Chicago 1924
The study of Psychology
Man, the Machine (excerpt only)
You want to study psychology, but you have no psyche -- so how can you study what does not exist yet? You wish to know yourself as a man, but you are not a man yet, only a machine; so you must begin to study yourself as a machine. Psychology is only the study of other people's ideas; it is far better to study yourself than to study other people's fantasies. You want me to tell you many things and I also want to share with you what I know about man and his ways. But you could not understand what you want to know even if I told you. We have not the language.
Our ordinary language is made for simple things only. We have no words available for "higher" things. Words are necessary because we cannot yet understand one another without them. When you have learned to study your own machine, we will understand one another better.
When you study yourself you have to be able to concentrate your attention upon that part which you wish to observe. At present you cannot concentrate your attention because your emotional center will not be quiet. So your attention is governed by your emotions and not by you. Until you stop being governed by your emotions you cannot be impartial; therefore you cannot understand the meaning of words.
Everyone understands words according to the mood they happen to be in. If I am hungry the word "wish" means food for me; but if I am satisfied it means "sleep" or perhaps "sex". All the time the meaning of words is changing and people do not even notice it.
We need to speak about very important things. For example, we have to speak about why man exists. This belongs to real knowledge, and to speak about it we shall have to understand words differently. To know anything real we must know all. There is an ancient saying: "To know means to know all. Not to know all means not to know. To know all is not impossible. It is necessary for this to know even very little. But to know that little one must know pretty much."
In this case, the very little we must know is that man does not exist for himself, he exists to transmit vibrations needed for the moon. Man is part of the life of the earth. The earth is surrounded by a film of organic life kept in balance by planets, earth and moon. Organic life is so strong that no one can change his situation by himself. Suppose that God wants to help us; He cannot. The earth is too small to be affected by God's Will, If the earth is too small, how much more man? Where then can we get the help we need?
You can be helped when you begin to know yourselves. So long as you do not know your machine, even if help is offered you cannot make use of it. You must begin by understanding the purpose of our functions. Our centers are receivers for different rates of vibration, The centers are not affected equally by all vibrations. Each center is a receiver and transmitting apparatus. Each one takes the vibrations corresponding to its own functions. At present you can only receive automatically without discrimination. You do not know what you are taking in and so you con only transmit mechanically. This gives nothing for your selves.
Suppose you wish to transmit something consciously; you cannot because your mind will not be quiet. To stop the mind wandering, you must now use force, but you have not sufficient force; therefore you cannot do what you wish. Later, you can learn mechanical ways to stop the mind wandering, and then perhaps you can use your own force to do what you need to do.
All your energy that is not needed for keeping alive is taken by imagination and other useless activities. Observing your imagination -- that is, all the inner conversations and pictures that enter your mind without your own intention -- will help. Because when you observe, you draw away some of the energy from the imagination into force from which self-observation comes. In this way, that force can grow and one happy day you will find that you have an independent being in yourself that will be able to do what he wishes to do.
For the present, you must understand that you cannot observe whatever you wish. Your observation is limited by the associations already present in you. In a newborn child, each of the centers are free to respond to all the impressions that enter. It is like a system of blank gramophone rolls, From the day of this child's appearance in God's world, the external significance of objects and his own inner experiences are recorded on these rolls in accordance with the correspondence between the impressions and the material of which the different centers are made. This "material", which is really a kind of energy, has the possibility of absorbing corresponding vibrations and rejecting others.
In this way, certain places in each of the three brains of man get filled up with families of impressions grouped together by their similarity, or by the accident of being received together. Little by little, these become the habitual features that make up the personality. These features belong to all the centers, but the ones in the body are more stable. This is why you can study a man better by his postures and gestures than by what he says.
I will give you an example. Each man or woman has his own bodily postures and gestures, but these are connected with the mental and emotional habits and features which we cannot see. So to understand this, we must take something that many people do. Observe how people dance. Each nationality has its own way of dancing. You can always tell the nationality by the way a man dances. In the East, where traditions are much stronger, you can even tell which tribe or village people come from by the way they dance. In this way dances become like a kind of language by which people -- unconsciously, of course -tell us about themselves.
It is the same with everything. Each nation has a limited repertoire of movements which come from the impressions of childhood. Because of this there is also a limited repertoire of thought. Even the feelings take on their own habitual features, which fix for the whole of the rest of the life the ways in which a person can feel. After childhood, very little can be changed. Unless special measures are taken, about which we will talk lacer, the capacity to get new impressions weakens with age. Children receive new impressions, but older people cannot; therefore in later life all that can be experienced is the arousing and recombination of these old impressions from childhood. Really new impressions can be obtained only by violence, because the rolls in the centers are already covered up. It is difficult to penetrate to them because our force is limited.
Nevertheless, there always remains in man a place where impressions can be received, providing these are taken in with a sufficient intensity. This place remains free -- until adult life begins; if it has not received impressions before then, it is very hard to reach it. For many of you who are here now, this place is already almost impossible to reach. It will need great effort if you are to begin a new life…