Thursday, May 29, 2014

A decent hamburger

  May 14 – This morning, I found myself in the business lounge of the Meridian Hotel in Shanghai, having a conversation with my wife on my last morning in China.

In discussing the nature of thinking, being, and all of these fancy ideas we discuss, these lofty and complicated principles which we think we understand, she was talking about how downright irritating some people are, when they begin to think they are teachers.

 The Gurdjieff work has produced a swarm of individuals like this, many of whom project schoolmarmish personas that remind me of the British teachers I had in the English-model (not American) school system at the Internationale Schule E.V. in Hamburg, Germany in the 1960's. The education one got there was old-school in every sense of the word; but in reviewing that experience, I think I see where a lot of the stern, oppressive, and utterly useless attitudes originated. When Gurdjieff told Ouspensky that esoteric knowledge was passed on in schools, you see, all of the people who heard it involuntarily attached the idea to their Victorian upbringing, and the way schools operated in those days. This explains the results; even though the work and the teaching were conscious, the way it was taken in in this particular area was mechanical, and when that happens, you get what you get.

In any event, what I ultimately said to my wife regarding the unconsciously snotty attitudes many people adopt when they think they now have magical teachings to pass on to others is that if  one was asked to sum up the entire Gurdjieff teaching and everything it's about in two words, one would have to use these two words:

We're insensitive.

This insensitivity is a product of the mechanical mind, which I've examined in some detail in earlier posts, most particularly the group of posts under the title how thoughts form. Don't miss parts two and three if you decide to go back and review them.

The mechanical mind is an automated entity that can only do what it does, and nothing more. It has absolutely no sensitivity because it does not understand or contain feeling.

Feeling, mind you, is entirely distinct from emotion, and most human beings don't understand the distinction at all, so this complicates the matter.

The mechanical mind is like a meat grinder. If you watch it in operation in any detail, you will see that it grinds meat — our own inner meat, which damned well ought to worry us much more than it does — all day long. What one gets in one's life is raw hamburger. Everything we do is raw hamburger; no one even bothers to form it into patties and get it ready for the grill. Now, imagine if you served your guests raw hamburger meat when they came over for dinner — no patties, no cooking, no condiments, nothing, just the plate with a pile of raw hamburger meat on it.

"Here you go," you'd say, "let's have dinner."


This is pretty much what we do with who we are and how we behave, because we do so insensitively, that is, without feeling. Emotion comes in — but emotion is an undisciplined, rapid-fire, evolutionary response to the immediate moment, not a considered weighing of the emotional value of a situation processed through a better connection inside of us.

If you want to cook a decent hamburger for your guests, you've got to get past the meat grinder. This takes some foresight; it takes some intelligence, some awareness, and enough feeling and caring to want to make good patties, heat the grill properly, cook the meat well, and serve it with the appropriate side dishes. It takes, in other words, attention: that is to say,  living with some sensitivity requires much more of us than the meat grinder, which, it must be admitted, is a great piece of equipment, but only so far as it goes.

In any event, this process of the mechanical mind as being mindless — automatic — becomes more and more interesting as one watches it in operation. One begins to realize that one can just about ignore most of the products of this part of the mind, because most of them have little or nothing to do with the real world and what's actually happening around it. This part of the mind forms an abstraction, a conceptual model — that is to say, it presumes a future that does not exist and can never exist, but which it nonetheless doggedly clings to.

I realize we are changing gears here in terms of the analogy machine, but that will be necessary in order to get to the point in the next post.



  1. Ian McGilchrist's work is helpful here. The left cerebral hemisphere (the mechanical mind, seat of the ego) has the useful function of focused attention and analyses, but misses the context and "big picture," the function of the right hemisphere (where being and direct experience with the world are possible). The tragic dominance of the left brain is linked to much of the destructive tendencies of Western culture. Perhaps this is the meaning of the organ kundabuffer?

  2. Read Chris McManus' excellent "Left hand, Right hand". After reading this, I agreed with his contention that the myth of left-brain tendencies is wildly overrated, and the idea that the left brain is more creative than the right brain is just plain false. ( Take note, Kundabuffer is not a left brain/right brain issue. It is cited (in a nutshell) as the tendency of human beings to derive pleasure from doing the same thing over and over again; i.e., habit.

    1. While I appreciate your clarification of kundabuffer, everything you just said is quite in alignment with McGilchrist. I will have to look into your book recommendation even though I strongly dislike using the word myth to denote something literally true or false...

    2. I guess unless you're a brain scientist or a psychiatrist, it doesn't really matter if the discursive meat grinder and habitual patterns originate from the left hemisphere. It only matters that we struggle against these tendencies


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