Sunday, February 15, 2009

Information technology

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Reading this morning in "The Superorganism" (Holldobler & Wilson, W.W. Norton & Company, 2009), it seems evident to me that the model for insect societies is a good one for understanding the cosmology presented by Gurdjieff. Without getting into too many esoteric comparatives, simply put, the universe itself is a superorganism with emergent properties.

This, of course, is an intellectual discourse of the type that the blog has been engaging in a bit less lately. And if you want intellectual discussion of the work, there are many other places you can go, such as "What is the work?" at Ning.

Psychological and intellectual analysis of Work ideas is not always very helpful. Over and over again, I seem to find myself stressing that this mechanism is only good for just so much. That is in spite of the fact that I find great value in it. I think what we need to recognize, above all, that it is a starting point. The Work must penetrate much deeper than that to have a real effect on a man.

Today I want to examine a quote from chapter 6 of "The Superorganism" and discuss it in terms of our inner work. As this particular discussion develops we will seek connections between the intellectual ideas we encounter and the direction they point us in in terms of practical inner experience.

On page 168 of "The Superorganism," we find the following:

"The essence of social existence is reciprocal, cooperative communication. The study of communicative mechanisms is at the heart of research on social interactions, whether that communication occurs among the organelles of a cell, the cells and tissues of an organism, the organisms within a society, or the species within mutalistic symbyoses. This fundamental principle of biology has been articulated by Thomas Seeley as follows: "The formation of a higher level unit by integrating lower-level units will succeed only if the emerging organization acquires the appropriate technologies for passing information among its members."

This principle holds true on any level of the universe. It speaks specifically about the fact that there are levels, and that they only communicate with each other if the proper connections exist. The word "technologies" in this particular passage refers to actual physical mechanisms that evolution has produced for communication: in ants, specifically, a complex series of glands that produce pheromones; in bees, the ability to perform complex dances to indicate the direction of food sources and the need for workers of various kinds.

This may not, at first glance, seem to have anything to do with inner work, but it is exactly what Gurdjieff said about the nature of man. We are machines. Within us there are physical mechanisms -- "technologies"--produced by evolution that allow communication between lower and higher levels of awareness. In the same way that cells use the technology of proteins for communication, and organs use the technology of cells to organize themselves and perform their tasks, so the lower parts of man, that is, his ordinary psychological components, have all of the equipment that is necessary to communicate with a higher level of awareness. The equipment itself has deteriorated and fallen into disuse, but it is there.

So the essence of contacting a higher order of awareness lies in communication and the ability to use the parts that can do that. Hence Gurdjieff's reference to "impartial mentation," a way of perceiving that correctly uses all of the material connections available to us.

It's also important to note that the emergent properties within the universe only have meaning within the context of reciprocity. Whether we are looking at insect societies or the relationship between man and God, it is the exchange of what is inwardly formed within the community that creates a higher level of awareness.

Communication is a process of passing on information. Information is, in biology, quite literally that which is formed inwardly, in a material sense. Proteins are formed in cells. Cells are formed in organs. In each case we see that a material product results from the work of the machine, which can be used within the social network (proteins in cells, cells in organs) to produce a higher level of work.

This only takes place if what is inwardly formed is properly formed. If proteins, for example, are folded incorrectly, all kinds of diseases can result, and the cell does not work properly. If too much of one kind of protein is present, and not enough of another, chaos ensues. So what is inwardly formed at the beginning is vital to the ability of the emergent Superorganism, whatever kind of Superorganism that is, to function correctly.

The quality of man's psychological and spiritual nature functions in much the same way. When we see aberrant behavior -- for example, the Virginia University shooter -- we see quite clearly that what was formed inwardly was wrong. In extreme cases like this, it's obvious. What we don't see is that for the most part, we pay little or no attention to what is formed inwardly. When it produces what Jeanne De Salzmann called "bad results," (see Idiots in Paris by Bennett) it is a direct result of our failure to attend to what we form inwardly in a proper manner.

This need for greater attention, for greater discrimination, within the immediate moment of our life is an essential point for inner work. I think this point is well understood by the Buddhists, who wish to cultivate mindfulness. That practice also ought to be at the heart of Christianity, but even though I can say many good things about Christians, and am in fact one myself, I think that practice is somewhat lacking in the Christian church today.

Getting back to the specific practice, if we look at the way bees communicate, they use vibration. In almost exactly the same way, we have vibrations within us -- and vibrations from outside us -- that indicate in a relatively precise manner the direction that good food lies in, and how rich the food source is. If we learn to pay a good kind of inner attention, it will lead us to richer food for our spiritual life. In the same way, ants use scent to direct them as to how to behave. And it is in fact true that we can use inner "taste" and "smell" to know what action we could take that would serve better.

So what we form inwardly is critical. This has nothing to do with facts that we absorb; it is all about the intimate experience of life. It is, in other words, about acquiring this food of our impressions. You can pile up all the arguments and facts you want, they don't mean a damn thing relative to the tactile arrival of life at the threshold of our senses. That arrival consists of a nonverbal, yet nevertheless absolutely compelling, language which is the essence of the structure we must be sensitive to and reside within if we want to re-acquire the "technology" for communication which we have forgotten how to use.

I will refer readers once again to a passage from Mr. Gurdjieff's "Beelzebub's Tales To His Grandson," page 1090, as follows:

"The second of the four personalities, functioning in most cases entirely independently of the first, is the sum of the results of data deposited and fixed in the common presence of every man, as of every animal, through the six organs called "receivers of vibrations of different qualities" -- organs that function in accordance with the new impressions perceived, and whose sensitivity depends on heredity and upon the conditions of the preparatory formation for responsible existence of the given individual."

Here we have a quite exact description of the technology that man has within himself for the receiving of impressions. Anyone who reads the passage in its entirety will have to agree that he is describing the emotional apparatus of man. And, indeed, the emotional apparatus is both the most sensitive organic receiver that man has, and the specific physical apparatus that receives the vibration of impressions.

When Mr. Gurdjieff told Ouspensky it was necessary to make a conscious effort at the moment an impression is received (In Search of the Miraculous, page 188) he was referring specifically to placing the attention within the organism at the point where the "receivers of vibration" receive the impressions. This is a point of work that every serious student must eventually turn themself to.

The transformation of the "water" of life--the inward flow of impressions into the vessel -- into "wine" eventually takes place if and when the attention is present at the point where impressions are received. This is the moment where what Gurdjieff calls conscious effort can make a major change in the quality of what is received and what it produces.

Of course, all of this, when transmitted by the "technology" we use today -- which consists, in this case, of written words, and electronic transmission devices -- amounts to nothing more than intellectual analysis. It is up to us to dispense with the analysis and the intellectualism, and to become much more sensitive and attentive to the actual work of the organism.

In Dharma Hall discourse 350, "Deepen Intimacy with Self and Others," Dogen says,

"Pleaser cherish your skin, flesh, bones, and marrow.
Knowing each other, intimate friends grow even more intimate.
When someone asks the meaning of coming from the west,
Bodhidharma faces the wall for nine years,
abiding at Shaolin."

(Eihei Koroku, translated by Taigen Dan Leighton and Shohaku Okumura, Wisdom Publications 2004)

The practice of inner intimacy is, in other words, a rigorous one. It is a search conducted from within a mystery, to discover a mystery.

We can, however, take heart.

Bees may dance in the darkness, but as they offer their experience to one another, it leads them together into the light, where the nectar is rich.

May our hearts be open, and our prayers be heard.


  1. Are we connected or socially disconnected…I personally believe that technology has reduced our social capital—the relationships that bind people together and create a sense of community. Consequences include decreased civility, loss of behavioural boundaries and increased crime. We must find ways to deal with our profound loss of social connectedness.Even though technological advances have contributed significantly to the problem of isolation, the emphasis on individualism in today’s society has compounded it.

    more:didier grossemy

  2. i have been reading your articles.I like the depth of your insights & the way you express them.
    Keep on posting..



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