In terms of human society — in terms of how much wealth people have, in terms of how much food they have to eat, how good their health is, how protected from violence they are — it's possible to measure improvement. To starve, to be sick, to die through violence — I think it's fair enough to say that these are bad things, and that improvement over those alternatives are possible. Yet it may be more difficult to measure improvement from an inner point of view.
It's very often said, in spiritual works, "we don't work for results," and yet, why does anyone ever do anything, if not hoping for an improvement? To work, as Meister Eckhart recommends, "for God alone," and not for ourselves — is this actually possible? Perhaps it is, in the most deeply esoteric compartments of the soul that are generally hidden from view, but in addition to this loftiest of goals, there is, without a doubt, a wish for improvement, for betterment, in every human being, if only in their relationship to God alone.
It is possible to starve, to be sick, to die through violence in an inner sense. If one does not receive the spiritual food one requires, eventually, one grows spiritually sick — and, perhaps even, all the way up to Kierkegaard's sickness unto death. So there is, I am certain, a betterment achievable through inner work. That is, an effort to come into relationship with the self. This effort is a dynamic, relational, and interactive one, that involves a conscious recognition of inner agency — a will towards responsibility for one's inner life. Let us remember that the chief difference between the mechanical, automated cosmos of Gurdjieff's original universe, where everything happen by itself, and the new one, where the Lord introduced intentional inconsistencies, requiring the action of outside agencies for completion, is one of relationship. I stressed this point many times at the 2015 annual All and Everything Conference, where the study was chiefly centered on The Holy Planet Purgatory, where the technical details of this chapter came under scrutiny and dissection.
This question of relationship is essential; it is at the heart of the way the inner (personal) and outer cosmos function. One comes into relationship not only with others, but with one's Self; and one does so through a process of inquiry. This process of inquiry is the living force through which all things arise and better themselves; and it is in fact true that Love itself, that supreme love which created all that is and can ever Be, is it engaged itself in that process of inquiry, which is of itself and by itself an essential part of that Love.
We admit a good; we admit a process of betterment; and we admit a process of inquiry that leads towards it. With no good, there is no need for betterment; and with no betterment, there is no need for inquiry. So even an atheistic scientific discipline is founded, ultimately, on the idea of the good, and of betterment; otherwise, why inquire? Of itself, the process is worthless. Without betterment and a consequent good to strive for, it is nothing more than masturbation — in the sense that it is a fruitless activity.
The inner process of inquiry, should it be conscious, must eventually lead one to ask, how do I express the good, as I understand it? If it is only my own good I want to express, I am selfish, and want to come into relationship only with myself; but if I wish to express a good that is greater than myself, then, I have a wish to come into relationship with greater forces and participate on a higher, or cosmological, level, even if all of my interpretations may be narrowly confined to this level.
Of course, it is possible to open the inner being, the soul itself, to higher levels; and indeed, those higher levels are expressed within Being and existence in human beings from the beginning, because all things are ultimately created by the inflow of a higher energy, even those which appear to us to be inanimate.
The process of inquiry ultimately leads to understanding that fact from as many points of view as possible, but, most especially, practical ones.