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essays on the biosphere no. 1: First Published 8th April 2014 on DuVersity Online Magazine “Views”
John Bennett received a very unusual teaching from Gurdjieff, his early teacher, and from an early student of these ideas, Ouspensky, who acted as mentor during Bennett’s early development of the ideas then seen in his Dramatic Universe and other books.
The classic form of Gurdjieff’s ideas were recorded from lectures, in Ouspensky’s 1950 bookIn Search of the Miraculous. What emerged was a vision of everything that existed and how this Whole structure we call the Universe was layered into systems of differing size and how each of these scales of structure had its own type of operation including an intelligence which enables it to do things within its own world and organise its environment.
Whilst the commonly held idea of the universe, defined by our scientists, corresponds with structures of distinctive scale, such as galaxies, stars, planets, the Earth’s biosphere and planetary moons, and whilst human kind used to attribute intelligence and being to celestial objects, there is no scientific support for these large scale structures having an innate intelligence or being.
However, it is tough not to attribute an intelligence within large cosmic structures when confronted with the fortuitous structure of the universe in producing life, and life with a degree of intelligence such as ourselves. Also, one has to ask: Why do these structures exist if not to create the conditions within which, at least, human beings can live in such a beautiful and benign environment as our biosphere?
Without intelligence one has to rely on only two factors, the physical laws found within this universe established at the beginning of time and a kind of good luck that can generate systems out of minerals gases and sunlight which can reproduce autonomous systems which improve themselves over succeeding generations.
With intelligence one can still have physical laws which are fortuitous and one can still have DNA and natural selection within our biosphere, but can add a degree of vertical harmonisation of the different laws of scale where something structurally greater can act upon something structurally lesser in order to achieve something structurally higher from the original lower, through the intelligence (if we may call it just that) of something organised in a superior way.
This type of action Gurdjieff called the Law of Three because three things can be seen as different and yet compatible in the sense of their ability and readyness to work together. An example is the relationship between the seed, the earth and the sun. The seed is the highest and most essential form of the plant and yet it cannot manifest without conditions provided by the soil, air and moisture (the earth) and light and heat (the sun). Having survived, the seed then knows how to make chlorophyll; which, in a further threesome, can absorb the sunlight and proceed to turn the soil into a plant’s other molecules so as to build its habitual structure.
The difference between seed, earth and sun is crucial and these were termed by Gurdjieff as representing three types of force characteristic of the law of three.
An affirming force
A denying force
A reconciling force
The roles of any three players can vary during the interplay of their collective manifestation.
The earth will rot a seed if the sun cannot “bring it on” with warmth whereupon it germinates successfully; the seed affirming the plant, the earth denying the seed and the sun reconciling these two.
The chlorophyll, by its innovative chemical structure can, in the seedling, absorb light from the sun and synthesise carbohydrates, from carbon dioxide and water in the atmosphere. This happens in the seedling and the sun is now affirming, the seedling’s chlorophyll denying (of the light through absorption) and the plant is reconciling through its structures that grow as carbon is fixed from the atmosphere.
The question that arises is whether the possible chemical compounds that are here used by the plant are part of the universe or part of the earth. Obviously, the universe has to have chemical elements and the “valences” of these with regard to each other will prefigure their consequent possible appearance upon a planet with plants. However, is the molecular world capable of finding and combining atoms and molecules so as to find the necessary molecules to successfully perform crucial functions such as chlorophyll does, only crucial probably upon suitable planets. This conundrum only gets more complicated when one sees that prefiguring photosynthesis within the relatively simple structure of the atomic elements would involve not only intelligence but a plan, that there should be biospheres on suitable planets. Then one can ask, were plants latent within the chemical elements and physical laws when these became established?
The problem comes from front-loading all of the presumed intelligence into the atomic structures of the physical world and the fact that this does not correspond with our practical experience of intelligence within the human world.
When my father was an early engineer of computers in the fifties and sixties, they were very large, very expensive and very unintelligent; so much so that they had to be applied for some very special purpose for which there was a natural budget and application for their use. Now, every gadget and appliance far exceeds, even in its substructures, the complexity, value-for-money and intelligence of the most prestigious early computers.
Computers did not evolve through natural selection except that the markets for them certainly were a denying force for some very bad computer possibilities. Like the seed, the affirming force behind computers was the theoretical ability to perform mathematical operations using a binary notation that became compatible with the earth through a technological progression of gears, electronic valves and then semiconductor chips of silicon which then gave human beings (taking the place of the sun) a tool which could solve new problems, when amenable to a mathematical process or algorithm.
Were computers made by the possibility of their existence or through the intelligence of human beings? Such either/or thinking, between the foreordination of the universe from day one and the necessity for some intelligence to achieve results within the existence, has been precipitated by the idea that something of greater value can come automatically from something of lesser value.
The key to understanding how existential structures can gain value, and become more virtuous lies in the intelligence which acts to improve them. In our example of the seed, seeds have, to our knowledge, been cultivated by man for about ten thousand years and selective breeding, hybridisation, grafting and now genetic modification have taken over from natural selection. One can say that the possibilities for plants lie in their molecular and habitual constitution at any stage in their improvement. These potentials are what can interact with what we call intelligence in that a suitable intelligence, in this case human, can interact with plants so as to evolve them by selective breeding.
But one has to search hard to locate the intelligence latent in plants as having been within human beings who were merely able to read that intelligence and find ways to interact with it. The intelligence of plants is within the plant world and not within men. The perceived fact that plants can provide us with more food or improved hardiness to frost combines with human needs and desires for reliable and fruitful crops in what we then call an intelligent action. One can see that three complementary and compatible elements are needed to form the effective intelligence within an existing situation.
The universe, at its creation, had a potential for structures which represents a supremely high intelligence which would logically come to rely upon those structures and their intelligence in order for the universe to be realised. The stuff of the early universe was fully realised but its structural content, containing the intelligence of their potential realisation out of primitively structured fields, particles and atoms, leads to the idea that intelligence is not simply concentrated in a God who made the universe and its laws, or in humans who can evolve seeds and computers because of their innate head-intelligence but rather, it is integral to every structure of every scale, shape and size. The general purpose intelligence of the human being is what enables them to read the potential held within structures found within their environment and in so doing transform structures through human contact.
The problem brought to our attention by Bennett and seen so keenly by Gurdjieff was that human ideas about where intelligence resides have become dominated by the idea that we can think, and alongside this we can ask why humans are able to be intelligent in transforming the systems and structures around them. Are these transformations done by our thinking? Or is what we call thinking, in fact, just a necessary post-rationalisation of what we have understood so that we can remember and communicate it? Are humans intelligent within their environment because a larger scale structure (that we call the biosphere) has evolved human beings to perform a certain function within the planetary world?
The idea that human beings are evolved for the biosphere has been filtered out by a competing human idea that human individuals, families, communities, nations and the race as a whole are accidental products of natural selection, and of all the potentials of the physical universe, and exist to please themselves within socially established limits. This idea epitomised in the Selfish Gene declares the independence of human being over an environment denuded of any intelligence other than that which must surely, for accidental reasons, reside in the human brain.
The notion of independence from the Nature which gave rise to human being and the natural environment is seen to be gaining a freedom over the material world, this being the ultimate destiny of a tool-using intelligent primate. In fact the exact opposite is the case because all of the unnecessary sufferings of human beings come from their slavery to this independence exactly because the biosphere is inherently inter-dependent. This view of the biosphere, as expressing inter-dependence, was called by Gurdjieff:The Law of Reciprocal Maintenanceand it needs to be seen alongside his ideas about the faulty mentation (thinking) of human beings which has grown into this full blown myth of independence.
The idea that “I do something” by holding to the word-image that “I do something” is not to do anything at all. This thinking is a post-rationalisation which hides the fact that (joyfully if you will) one interacts with actual things within a language suitable for that interaction, a mixture that may be composed of words, emotions, movements, failures, skills, experience and so on. These components are not composed and rarely are the reasons for them to happen orchestrated by oneself. This habit of imagining oneself as an I was called by the wise men of India the I-maker (Ahamkara) and they laid at its door all that was useless about unreformed human nature in that selfishness, sloth, aggression, delusion and many other objective illnesses, emerge in the individual who no longer understands their relation, of inter-dependence or dharma, within real situations.
As presented above, intelligence can be located as inherent between the primary elements acting within situations and structures found in the biosphere. The human intelligence similarly lies between the primary human elements such as rationality, insight, emotion, action, found in the human being and these have the ability to interact in one of two ways:
The modern condition gives precedence to events happening and manufactured purely within the human societies and, within these societies and events, the role of who one is, as an I, is considered somewhat sacrosanct.
Before the modern condition, the context for a human life was the natural world and very much on a par with other creatures in the biosphere.
The popular myth is that stone age humans were less intelligent and hence did not achieve what moderns have, yet this is not true in terms of brain development which has been virtually stationary for tens of thousands of years. What we can’t accept is that human beings have increasingly been cut off from their natural role within the biosphere by the human application of technologies which have generated a new order, not geared to the evolution and maintenance of life within the biosphere. Accordingly, the intelligence applied to interacting with the biosphere has inevitably become selfish and exploitative.
The implications are that either humans are going badly wrong or that the biosphere is still acting through humanity but towards goals humans can no longer consciously participate in. The first scenario is a kind of “original sin” found in more than one traditional religion. The second scenario is damaging to our pride since it marks a failure of human intelligence to see the world as it really is or, in the further words of Gurdjieff, “to see the world upside down”.
A third possible scenario, always open to individuals, is to re-open the dialogue with the biosphere in the context not of thinking but rather through inter-acting with it as having an intelligence higher than our own. This seed, so to speak, sown by the Bhagavad Gita as perennial wisdom, is re-interpreted by Bennett and Gurdjieff as the necessary work on oneself to recover the role of human being within the biosphere, which is to understand how to give back for the debt of one’s own existence by realising a role.
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In order to think about the cosmic world one has to recognise that it is more than the world of life found on the earth and the living world, or biosphere, is most probably a result of how the cosmic world organised evolution on the earth.
The cosmic world is made up of large bodies; planets and the suns around which planets orbit with sophisticated, some say musical, regularity. However, the cosmic world shares with the living world the basic stuff of materiality, that is the atoms and molecules under the sway of various type of force field. The world of material stuff and forces is characteristically less complex than that exhibited in life and therefore seems "less than" or below life, leading to John Bennett's naming of it as being hyponomic (literally "under laws "). Bennett then called the world of Life autonomic and, since Life arises within a cosmic structure, this higher world was termed hypernomic ("above laws"). Bennett's prefix scheme, of hypo-, auto- and hypernomic, divides the whole universe into three naturally different types of structures.
Threefold Manifestation: The light triangle of the Trinity represents God, who remains 'beyond all things', entering the black hole of matter (hyle). As a result, three worlds arise: the angelic (empyrean), stellar (ethereal), and elemental.
From Robert Fludd by Joscelyn Godwin, Thames & Hudson (Shambhala: Boulder, 1979, page 52)
The sky appears as the realm of the hypernomic ‘above’ life on earth with celestial bodies moving across it in various patterns. As far as we know, humanity has always projected onto the celestial bodies some kind of a role in their own everyday affairs and watched the gods of the sky portraying their own dramas. All early religious ideas appear based upon seeing cosmic bodies as gods which were involved in the fate of human beings and groups even beyond life, after death. Even today, monotheistic religion may have discarded the sky gods but it has retained the role of God in the fate of human life and the status of people in an afterlife in heaven, a concept originating in the actual heavens literally above Life.
In Bennett's terminology therefore, religious ideas and those concerning an afterlife, after death, are tied to the hypernomic world within which Life has evolved, despite the conceptualisation of monotheistic religion. But are our ideas of religion and death tied to the hypernomic world through human projection, as anthropologists insist, or is the hypernomic world actually shaping these ideas? Could it be that this distinctive invariance in human beliefs concerning religion and death, found in some form wherever human cultures established themselves, is actually a manifestation of the hypernomic world in human life?
Perhaps "human projection in seeking answers in the sky" and "hypernomic realities relating to the purpose of Life" are two sides of the same coin and this may explain why early human societies of the ancient near east and of megalithic Europe, turned to the skies to both understand the dynamism of its clockwork and to seek answers as to why existence was as it is to strive to answer a question Gurdjieff formulated as his own: "What is the sense and purpose of life and human life in particular?".
A very interesting question arose historically as to whether being alive was good or whether it was a fallen state of ourselves. This has become somewhat degenerate due to the assumption that humans already have a soul formed and, in a sense, this second question pre-empts the first by implying a negative answer to it; for there can be no "sense and purpose" to life if humans are fallen, apart perhaps from recovering (if possible) from that fall. In other words, the doctrine of original sin is toxic to Gurdjieff's big question.
It seems as if religion has got too wrapped up in the issues of selfhood. One can see that one's own self is actually complemented by another non-self, in the form of one's life or "circumstance". The religious idea that one can die, redeemed by a super-being, because you have been righteous, or that one can escape life's challenges (or purpose) through turning from the world towards a monastery or system of self-development avoids "the elephant in the room" which is your fate, wrapped up in the form of your necessary life experiences. Gurdjieff was very clear in saying "The best conditions for a man's development are those provided by Life"
The reason why religion and death are likely felt through the hypernomic world is because it represents a different part of a cosmic triad. The material stuff of the hyponomic world provides all the functionality required within the Universe and so seems related to what Bennett termed Function, within his triad Function-Being-Will. The three realms of the hyponomic, autonomic and hypernomic correspond to these three fundamental categories. The living stuff of the autonomic world creates all the players on a highly specific stage, the biosphere, and these players are the created beings belonging to a world of beings "similar to the already arisen" i.e. cosmic beings. Beings get their substance from the hyponomic world and their pattern from the hypernomic world, and form a reconciling (autonomous) principle, requiring a type of Being not created with the universe.
At death a created being either becomes a non-being, another being or nothing at all. To become a non-being, one must be able to subsist without a living body and this brings us to the third principle of Will. Whilst alive, one subsists due to the biosphere and hence due to the will of the biosphere which partakes of hypernomic reality. As Bennett reportedly said in reply to someone who said they loved nature (or the biosphere), "It is not you who loves Nature, it is Nature that loves you." To ‘have will’ is to be more than your life, to "die before you die" and it is through a transformation of the circumstances associated with ourselves.
Religious thought has its origin in wanting to be hypernomic or cosmic. There is some "strange attractor" at work in the human psyche which would want to “leave the biosphere” in the sense of not relying upon the biospheric will to subsist (perhaps echoed in the dream of space travel).
Religious texts often have gods speaking to the human world but it is unlikely that the hypernomic communicates directly to autonomic minds. Instead, what is much more likely is that the hypernomic "speaks" to the human pattern which characterises each individual human psyche, a pattern from beyond Life. The circumstances of a human life, the "other" rather than the "self", has some relationship to the hypernomic world, being part of the hypernomic world through its human pattern. Therefore the individual striving for transcendence can be considered as taking place within a narrative possible only because of the circumstances of one's life, as put by Spanish existentialist philosopher Ortega y Gasset: "I am myself and my circumstance, or surroundings". Ortega appears to be stating the obvious but in a usefully exact way: that the ego or self is effectively a part of the objects within consciousness, without which nothing would mean anything. Indeed, can there be consciousness without objects? More to the point; can the objects, relationships, institutions, etc., “out there”, as the "Other", be there to reveal the human pattern in life and its best path of development?
The possible unification of self and non-self (one's circumstance) leads naturally to the notion of a spiritual journey within "the world", often formalised as a pilgrimage but essentially being a series of steps towards developing attunement to the hypernomic world and therefore reducing dependence upon the biospheric sources of will (the values that move it), such as comfort, reproduction, wealth, power and so on. However, the weak part of the equation is what one expects from God or the gods in return for such renunciation, since to enter the hypernomic must be a strengthening of will but will must have an objective other than merely pleasing the gods.
It is obvious that "relationship to surroundings" is somehow a key to "relationship to the hyponomic world". Gurdjieff proposed that our deeper impressions of the world contain elements of the higher worlds of the hypernomic, but all mixed up and only discernible to a consciousness having a similar "vibratory character" to that higher world to which such an impression belongs. This is a very important characteristic of Gurdjieff's teaching, that higher worlds are compresent within our surroundings, this having resonance with an early Christianity in which "But the Kingdom of the Father is spread upon the Earth, but men see it not" [gospel of Thomas Log 113].
Just as a donkey in a library does not see books and cannot read them, a person without the will or "vibratory character" of the hypernomic world cannot make sense of those impressions within their situation. In a world in which the ego is trained from birth to focus on what it wants or what others want, and reject what it dislikes, there is evidently a need to look beyond the boundaries of what selves can do and to look instead at what is possible in the situation that may not be what one simply desires; a development presented by Gurdjieff in Beelzebub's Tales as a movement from attending to one's desires towards attending to non-desires. As a Sufi once put it: "Intelligence is in the situation" indicating that intelligence is not just in the selfhood, as is conventionally thought today.
Religion is doing; a man does not merely think his religion or feel it, he “lives” his religion as much as he is able, otherwise it is not religion but fantasy or philosophy. George Ivanovich Gurdjieff (1866 –1949)
Addendum - The Role of Death in Ancient Art and Literature
Preparations for death were an important reason for the creation and dissemination of an ancient Model of the cosmos, which had the earth at its centre (being the location of life) and an earth divided into three regions: Heaven in the North, Life in the Equatorial regions and Hades/Hell to the South. The dead were thought to transmigrate to heaven or hell, long after monotheism had dislocated such destinations from the ancient Model as cosmic regions.
The road travelled after death was along the sun’s path (or ecliptic/zodiac) where this connected with the two junctions of spring and autumn equinox, the celestial earth (our present Equator when projected into the starry sky) there crossing the ecliptic. The Galaxy formed a further ‘great circle’ in the sky, seen to cross the zodiac at two further points; in the last third of the signs of Sagittarius and Gemini. These two pairs of cross-over locations were thought part of a cosmic mechanism or Mill that was slowly drifting due to the Precession of the Equinoxes, moving one sign every 2160 years. In some configurations, the dead had problems during their transmigration whilst the living were also thought to be less blessed than at other golden or silver Ages, exactly due to the Earth’s orientation to the Galaxy. By the Classical Greek period the full details of this Model had been forgotten.
The deceased were thought to benefit from knowledge of these structural niceties, a knowledge instilled orally, and through cultural exposure to a wide range of relatively oblique references within mythic tales, rituals and religious symbolisms. The technical nature of the Model meant its truth could not be imparted by direct reason to ordinary people, who instead had to receive it within the pattern of their cultural life. So, whilst ancient myths, books of the dead, pyramid/coffin texts, and religious practices throughout the ancient world are found to have recognisable similarities, this hides a common religious invariance shaped by the hypernomic world, thought corresponding to human experiences after death, in which the Model was thought to become a cosmic reality.
From Music of the Spheres and the Dance of Death
by Kathi Meyer-Baer, Princeton UP:New Jersey, 1970
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