In the last essay, I talked about the desires of the soul and the starry world of desire. The essay largely centered around the habitual nature of identity, and how we don’t see or understand it. In order to explain how precisely accurate Gurdjieff’s understanding of the subject is, it will be necessary to take a close look at some recent discoveries in the world of robotics.
In order to understand this in more detail, I strongly recommend that readers get themselves a copy of the March 2018 issue of Scientific American and read the article “self-taught robots” by Diana Kwon. In it, Diana recounts the research efforts of Angelo Cangelosi at the University of Plymouth in England and Linda B. Smith, a developmental psychologist at Indiana University Bloomington. The article says, among other things:
“A fundamental difference between us and many present-day AI systems is that we possess bodies that we can use to move about and act in the world… In a 2015 study, Cangelosi, Smith and their colleagues endowed an iCub (this is a kind of robot) with a neural network that gave it the ability to learn simple associations and found that it acquired new words more easily when objects names were consistently linked with specific body positions.”
Anyone who reads this article in its entirety will realize that Gurdjieff explained the relationship between the centers — between thought, emotion, and the body, in the 1920s explaining exactly the same thing: that the brain, the thinking parts of each center, learn by associating with the other centers and connecting them. Anyone who reads his various comments about posture and its relationship to thought and emotion in Views from the Real World will see that Gurdjieff studied with a school of esoteric philosophers that already knew what these robot designers are just learning over 100 years ago. The connections are categorically unmistakable; and the research, primitive as it is compared to Gurdjieff’s understanding (and there is a joke for you all in itself) absolutely proves that what Gurdjieff said about posture and the nature of the human being was entirely accurate.
The difference is that what Gurdjieff taught human beings can actually be used to understand and change human behavior; whereas all of these scientists are merely trying to build machines that behave like humans, as if that were in any way useful to human beings, other than to take away their jobs, their livelihood, and (when they have developed enough, which they will) quite possibly, their lives.
Of course, we should feel for the researchers, and find some sympathy for them. After all, they are trapped in the same limited roles created by their habits that we all are. They can’t have an identity any greater than the one they are in unless they throw the one they are in the way; and we are all in that situation.
I suspect that is scientific research into the nature of robotics continues, we will discover that more and more of what Gurdjieff said about human beings as machines is entirely accurate. Sooner or later, the scientific community will begin to wonder about why an Armenian mystic from the early 20th century knew all these things; but I’m not sure that will produce anything more than wonderment and some historical footnotes. The important point is to understand how the nature of our mechanical behavior and our automatic, habitual being influences the way we are in life, and how it completely masks any effort we might make to be decent, compassionate, loving, and human to one another.
One of the most disturbing aspects of this question is that we must of course also see that our ideas about being decent, compassionate, loving, and human are equally attached to this so-called “identity” we have developed. That is to say, even if we have an inkling about what these four words mean, they are boxed in to the tiny box of identity that was created over the course of our lives, and in most of the cases where we meet real life our attitudes, ideas, and understandings about these four qualities are just about worthless, because we have predetermined templates we want to apply in order to understand what they mean and how to “be that way;” that is, how to “use” them, as though they were tools that we could deploy instead of sacrifices that we ought to make.
Lee van Laer is a Senior Editor at Parabola Magazine.