Sunday, May 22, 2011

The third force in evolution

The truth is an unknown quality, of infinite depth.

Hold that thought from yesterday. More to follow. Today, a different subject.

Regular readers know of my ongoing investigations into the connections between the natural world and the cosmology and inner work that Gurdjieff brought to the West. Indeed, Gurdjieff saw no contradiction between the aims of religion and science–in this, he was far ahead of his time, even ahead of our own time–and in his magnum opus, Beelzebub's Tales to His Grandson, he cited the "third obligolnian striving" proper to every being as:

“...the conscious striving to know ever more and more about the laws of world creation and world maintenance.”

Ever since Darwin introduced it, evolutionary theory has revolved around the idea of two distinct driving forces: genetic mutation and natural selection.

Genetic mutation is mechanical, and affirms the preservation of species characteristics through heredity; we can equally characterize natural selection as a denying force, since it selects for specific genetic characteristics based on struggle and the elimination of less fit individuals, both by individual death and the extinction of entire species.

Gurdjieff, on the other hand, taught us that in everything that takes place, three forces are always at play: affirming, denying, and, most importantly, reconciling.

I recently picked up a copy of the book Super Cooperators by Martin A. Nowak. It supports my contention that biologists have largely ignored the importance of cooperation between organisms in species preservation, and emphasized only the competition. (Most of us have seen the television programs which discuss evolution as a violent and bloody "arms race" between competing species.)

No more. Nowak not only agrees with the premise of cooperation as a major evolutionary force, he has developed powerful mathematical models to demonstrate that cooperation is, in fact, the third force in evolution, and this is exactly what he calls it on page 3 of his book. We can, moreover, cite this as the reconciling force because it involves the development of a new and unusual relationship that changes the tension between the other two forces, ultimately bringing them together to create a whole that is greater than the sum of its parts.

The book is very readable, but readers may not be interested in plowing through what they perceive to be ponderous scientific tomes, so I'll try to boil it down in a nutshell.

Ruthless self interest carries the largest payoff for any single individual in a system of rewards and punishments, but mutual cooperation and self-sacrifice can lead to a much healthier system and greater advantages for all the individuals. That is to say, a mutually supportive community is a more powerful paradigm for evolutionary survival than a single egoistic individual.

The principal mechanism behind cooperation is one of sacrifice: I give up a bit of my own self-interest in order to help advance yours. In doing so, I end up a little better off than I would have been alone.

Interestingly enough, this line of reasoning is developed in the book by an argument that is related to Gurdjieff's analogy of a group of people working together to escape from prison.

In the first chapter of Super Cooperators, pages 4 through 8, Nowak explains a portion of the famous game theory called the prisoner's dilemma, in which individuals face greater and lesser penalties depending on whether or not they cooperate. The bottom line is that the game demonstrates that if individuals trust one another and cooperate, they both come out better off than if they act selfishly.

The whole premise of group work is based on exactly this principle–the third force of evolution. That is, group work is based on cooperation and trust. Individuals agree to share their work effort in order to try and advance their individual causes further than they might on their own. Gurdjieff insisted, in fact, that this was the only possibility–that any lesser strategy was ultimately doomed to failure.

Evolution, whether biological or spiritual, depends on the same set of forces and laws that all of the other phenomena arising in the universe depend on. They are not separated from one another; they are in a powerful relationship. And relationship is what mediates the tension between the physical existence of matter and its implications, and the temporal and spiritual existence of consciousness in its individual, that is, singularly expressed, nature.

Our own bodies are extraordinary examples of cooperation. We harbor trillions of bacteria in our bodies, most of which are absolutely essential to our well-being. To put it bluntly, we would die without them. A series of links to recent, absolutely astonishing discoveries about this is collected on a page you can get to by clicking this link.

We are not alone. The microcosms that support us help determine what we are–even our psychological state.

What use, you may be asking yourself, is all of this information? Does it actually have anything to do with inner development? Well, I believe it does. And it all hinges on an important word that is often forgotten and rarely discussed these days in groups:


Fear regulates a great deal of our behavior. This is true in both inner and outer circumstances. The regrettable dominance of politics on a public and national level is inevitably reflected in the same forces at work throughout every spiritual community. Only by overcoming these negative forces, which are born out of the second force in the Darwinian struggle for survival, can we hope to come together as a community based on trust, rather than competition–cooperation, rather than egoistic struggles for self-preservation.

The question in front of man has for generations been how to live in community, transcending our individual fears. Let's face it: we are not so good at it.

This outer question is mirrored by the same compelling inner question: how do we create an inner community, a community of our own being, that is based on the cooperation of our parts, rather than a struggle in which different parts of ourselves attempt to dominate one another?

In order for this to happen, each of the various parts has to give something up in order to contribute to the whole, and each part has to have some trust that this surrender, this cooperation, will be reciprocated–that we are not just in an environment where survival or death are the only alternatives.

The body roughly corresponds to our genetic makeup in this equation--the ego, or ruthless self interest, corresponds to the mind-- and cooperation can be generally understood to be an emotional quality of feeling that (presuming it is rightly directed) mediates a new, more compassionate and less self-interested relationship. This is just a brief sketch, but the overall relationships appear to me to be fairly evident.

Returning to yesterday's observations about apocalypse, although the word traditionally implies destruction–just as natural selection implies destruction–what it is actually pointing to is an uncovering, the revealing of a relationship–which is what cooperation can help us achieve, both inwardly and outwardly.

May our prayers be heard.


  1. Is there really such a thing as "truth", apart from everything else, separate as it were?

    Is there any real value for myself or my circle (i.e people whom I trust) or the planet or beyond in trying to determine "truth" or "a truth"?

    James Wyckoff, my original guide in the work, mentioned to me one-on-one at one point how much he was always amazed at the lengths people would go to avoid being in the moment. And I have carried that telling observation on Jim's part with me all these years later. One can often sniff out the smell of avoidance in speech and writing and certainly in music.

  2. Don,
    Yes, for me, there is a "thing"- for lack of any better word- called "truth"- once again, for lack of any better word.

    Jeanne de Salzmann seems to have believed the same, judging from the observations she left us, and the number of times she used the word.

    Perhaps you don't see it that way. That is really for you to determine. I suppose that without asking the question, we have no search. For myself, I recall Betty Brown's question: "what is the truth of this moment?" in my eyes, if there is no truth to be understood, then there is no reason to question, and perhaps even no reason to bother "working"- at all- presuming that what I attempt is even work at all.

    For myself, I would prefer to avoid identifying supposed deficiencies of "being in the moment" in the actions, writings, or music of others, since I can't say that I am "fully conscious" myself, and have little right to judge from that perspective- although I am empowered, like the rest of us, to render critical judgment from a more ordinary point of view, as I indeed must. I can't presume, in other words, to know for another- only for myself, as I am, and according to level, insofar as that goes.

  3. The program at the New York Open Center in NYC on Friday night (May 20) was stunning in it's depth and breadth touching on such a wide variety of subjects that it almost took my breadth away as I walked back to Grand Central Terminal on my way home. The title was Gurdjieff and the Crisis of Our Modern World.

    Jacob Needleman asked the question about where do I find hope in this world? He spoke from somewhere deep inside himself spoke about the Stillness and the Silence, and especially about the I Am that must be our aim eventually if not right now. What I heard as he spoke was a human manifestation of the I Am in the midst of New York City. The Stillness continues to vibrate in me 36 hours after this event.

    Ravi Ravindra spoke from his background as a professor of physics about our relative place in the universe as it is currently understood in the academic world. His words brought me into the room where he was speaking at the New York Open Center with a significant amount of force.

    Roger Lipsey, although he may have had a thread of thought in his mind before he began, appeared to be throwing himself on the fire as the Sufis speak of, by speaking of his views of the work in an improvisatory manner that was entirely in the moment. It would have been difficult to dream as he spoke and, as a matter of fact, I did not dream as he spoke.

    Several questions were opened for me during the program, such as:
    1. Why is this type of an open discussion on the Gurdjieff Work taking place at this particular time in history?
    2. Is the world situation so desperate that it is now time for the Work to make it's appearance?
    3. Is the world at a tipping point?
    4. Is the Stillness understood by people not associated with the Work?
    5. Is the I Am understood by people outside the work?

  4. Lee,

    I do love Betty Brown's (who I never heard of previous to today, by the way) comment, "what is the truth of this moment?

    And this leads directly to your comment in the same paragraph, What IS work?

    Jean-Claude Lubchansky raised that precise question about 5 years ago at Silver Lake.

    But we all have clues about the naure of the Work and about the nature of Working....

    The music informs us....
    Beelzebub informs us..
    And the Movements, especially
    the Movements, inform us...

    Lord Have Mercy.


    I Wish, I Am, Always, Everywhere.

  5. Betty brought me into the work. She and her husband Henry Brown were my group leaders for many years.

  6. Lee,

    Sorry to not have Betty Brown.



  7. Meant to say, sorry to not have met Betty Brown. Although it may not be easy to tell, English really is my first language.


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