essays on the biosphere no. 1: First Published 8th April 2014 on DuVersity Online Magazine “Views”
John Bennett received a very unusual teaching from Gurdjieff, his early teacher, and from an early student of these ideas, Ouspensky, who acted as mentor during Bennett’s early development of the ideas then seen in his Dramatic Universe and other books.
The classic form of Gurdjieff’s ideas were recorded from lectures, in Ouspensky’s 1950 bookIn Search of the Miraculous. What emerged was a vision of everything that existed and how this Whole structure we call the Universe was layered into systems of differing size and how each of these scales of structure had its own type of operation including an intelligence which enables it to do things within its own world and organise its environment.
Whilst the commonly held idea of the universe, defined by our scientists, corresponds with structures of distinctive scale, such as galaxies, stars, planets, the Earth’s biosphere and planetary moons, and whilst human kind used to attribute intelligence and being to celestial objects, there is no scientific support for these large scale structures having an innate intelligence or being.
However, it is tough not to attribute an intelligence within large cosmic structures when confronted with the fortuitous structure of the universe in producing life, and life with a degree of intelligence such as ourselves. Also, one has to ask: Why do these structures exist if not to create the conditions within which, at least, human beings can live in such a beautiful and benign environment as our biosphere?
Without intelligence one has to rely on only two factors, the physical laws found within this universe established at the beginning of time and a kind of good luck that can generate systems out of minerals gases and sunlight which can reproduce autonomous systems which improve themselves over succeeding generations.
With intelligence one can still have physical laws which are fortuitous and one can still have DNA and natural selection within our biosphere, but can add a degree of vertical harmonisation of the different laws of scale where something structurally greater can act upon something structurally lesser in order to achieve something structurally higher from the original lower, through the intelligence (if we may call it just that) of something organised in a superior way.
This type of action Gurdjieff called the Law of Three because three things can be seen as different and yet compatible in the sense of their ability and readyness to work together. An example is the relationship between the seed, the earth and the sun. The seed is the highest and most essential form of the plant and yet it cannot manifest without conditions provided by the soil, air and moisture (the earth) and light and heat (the sun). Having survived, the seed then knows how to make chlorophyll; which, in a further threesome, can absorb the sunlight and proceed to turn the soil into a plant’s other molecules so as to build its habitual structure.
The difference between seed, earth and sun is crucial and these were termed by Gurdjieff as representing three types of force characteristic of the law of three.
An affirming force
A denying force
A reconciling force
The roles of any three players can vary during the interplay of their collective manifestation.
The earth will rot a seed if the sun cannot “bring it on” with warmth whereupon it germinates successfully; the seed affirming the plant, the earth denying the seed and the sun reconciling these two.
The chlorophyll, by its innovative chemical structure can, in the seedling, absorb light from the sun and synthesise carbohydrates, from carbon dioxide and water in the atmosphere. This happens in the seedling and the sun is now affirming, the seedling’s chlorophyll denying (of the light through absorption) and the plant is reconciling through its structures that grow as carbon is fixed from the atmosphere.
The question that arises is whether the possible chemical compounds that are here used by the plant are part of the universe or part of the earth. Obviously, the universe has to have chemical elements and the “valences” of these with regard to each other will prefigure their consequent possible appearance upon a planet with plants. However, is the molecular world capable of finding and combining atoms and molecules so as to find the necessary molecules to successfully perform crucial functions such as chlorophyll does, only crucial probably upon suitable planets. This conundrum only gets more complicated when one sees that prefiguring photosynthesis within the relatively simple structure of the atomic elements would involve not only intelligence but a plan, that there should be biospheres on suitable planets. Then one can ask, were plants latent within the chemical elements and physical laws when these became established?
The problem comes from front-loading all of the presumed intelligence into the atomic structures of the physical world and the fact that this does not correspond with our practical experience of intelligence within the human world.
When my father was an early engineer of computers in the fifties and sixties, they were very large, very expensive and very unintelligent; so much so that they had to be applied for some very special purpose for which there was a natural budget and application for their use. Now, every gadget and appliance far exceeds, even in its substructures, the complexity, value-for-money and intelligence of the most prestigious early computers.
Computers did not evolve through natural selection except that the markets for them certainly were a denying force for some very bad computer possibilities. Like the seed, the affirming force behind computers was the theoretical ability to perform mathematical operations using a binary notation that became compatible with the earth through a technological progression of gears, electronic valves and then semiconductor chips of silicon which then gave human beings (taking the place of the sun) a tool which could solve new problems, when amenable to a mathematical process or algorithm.
Were computers made by the possibility of their existence or through the intelligence of human beings? Such either/or thinking, between the foreordination of the universe from day one and the necessity for some intelligence to achieve results within the existence, has been precipitated by the idea that something of greater value can come automatically from something of lesser value.
The key to understanding how existential structures can gain value, and become more virtuous lies in the intelligence which acts to improve them. In our example of the seed, seeds have, to our knowledge, been cultivated by man for about ten thousand years and selective breeding, hybridisation, grafting and now genetic modification have taken over from natural selection. One can say that the possibilities for plants lie in their molecular and habitual constitution at any stage in their improvement. These potentials are what can interact with what we call intelligence in that a suitable intelligence, in this case human, can interact with plants so as to evolve them by selective breeding.
But one has to search hard to locate the intelligence latent in plants as having been within human beings who were merely able to read that intelligence and find ways to interact with it. The intelligence of plants is within the plant world and not within men. The perceived fact that plants can provide us with more food or improved hardiness to frost combines with human needs and desires for reliable and fruitful crops in what we then call an intelligent action. One can see that three complementary and compatible elements are needed to form the effective intelligence within an existing situation.
The universe, at its creation, had a potential for structures which represents a supremely high intelligence which would logically come to rely upon those structures and their intelligence in order for the universe to be realised. The stuff of the early universe was fully realised but its structural content, containing the intelligence of their potential realisation out of primitively structured fields, particles and atoms, leads to the idea that intelligence is not simply concentrated in a God who made the universe and its laws, or in humans who can evolve seeds and computers because of their innate head-intelligence but rather, it is integral to every structure of every scale, shape and size. The general purpose intelligence of the human being is what enables them to read the potential held within structures found within their environment and in so doing transform structures through human contact.
The problem brought to our attention by Bennett and seen so keenly by Gurdjieff was that human ideas about where intelligence resides have become dominated by the idea that we can think, and alongside this we can ask why humans are able to be intelligent in transforming the systems and structures around them. Are these transformations done by our thinking? Or is what we call thinking, in fact, just a necessary post-rationalisation of what we have understood so that we can remember and communicate it? Are humans intelligent within their environment because a larger scale structure (that we call the biosphere) has evolved human beings to perform a certain function within the planetary world?
The idea that human beings are evolved for the biosphere has been filtered out by a competing human idea that human individuals, families, communities, nations and the race as a whole are accidental products of natural selection, and of all the potentials of the physical universe, and exist to please themselves within socially established limits. This idea epitomised in the Selfish Gene declares the independence of human being over an environment denuded of any intelligence other than that which must surely, for accidental reasons, reside in the human brain.
The notion of independence from the Nature which gave rise to human being and the natural environment is seen to be gaining a freedom over the material world, this being the ultimate destiny of a tool-using intelligent primate. In fact the exact opposite is the case because all of the unnecessary sufferings of human beings come from their slavery to this independence exactly because the biosphere is inherently inter-dependent. This view of the biosphere, as expressing inter-dependence, was called by Gurdjieff:The Law of Reciprocal Maintenanceand it needs to be seen alongside his ideas about the faulty mentation (thinking) of human beings which has grown into this full blown myth of independence.
The idea that “I do something” by holding to the word-image that “I do something” is not to do anything at all. This thinking is a post-rationalisation which hides the fact that (joyfully if you will) one interacts with actual things within a language suitable for that interaction, a mixture that may be composed of words, emotions, movements, failures, skills, experience and so on. These components are not composed and rarely are the reasons for them to happen orchestrated by oneself. This habit of imagining oneself as an I was called by the wise men of India the I-maker (Ahamkara) and they laid at its door all that was useless about unreformed human nature in that selfishness, sloth, aggression, delusion and many other objective illnesses, emerge in the individual who no longer understands their relation, of inter-dependence or dharma, within real situations.
As presented above, intelligence can be located as inherent between the primary elements acting within situations and structures found in the biosphere. The human intelligence similarly lies between the primary human elements such as rationality, insight, emotion, action, found in the human being and these have the ability to interact in one of two ways:
The modern condition gives precedence to events happening and manufactured purely within the human societies and, within these societies and events, the role of who one is, as an I, is considered somewhat sacrosanct.
Before the modern condition, the context for a human life was the natural world and very much on a par with other creatures in the biosphere.
The popular myth is that stone age humans were less intelligent and hence did not achieve what moderns have, yet this is not true in terms of brain development which has been virtually stationary for tens of thousands of years. What we can’t accept is that human beings have increasingly been cut off from their natural role within the biosphere by the human application of technologies which have generated a new order, not geared to the evolution and maintenance of life within the biosphere. Accordingly, the intelligence applied to interacting with the biosphere has inevitably become selfish and exploitative.
The implications are that either humans are going badly wrong or that the biosphere is still acting through humanity but towards goals humans can no longer consciously participate in. The first scenario is a kind of “original sin” found in more than one traditional religion. The second scenario is damaging to our pride since it marks a failure of human intelligence to see the world as it really is or, in the further words of Gurdjieff, “to see the world upside down”.
A third possible scenario, always open to individuals, is to re-open the dialogue with the biosphere in the context not of thinking but rather through inter-acting with it as having an intelligence higher than our own. This seed, so to speak, sown by the Bhagavad Gita as perennial wisdom, is re-interpreted by Bennett and Gurdjieff as the necessary work on oneself to recover the role of human being within the biosphere, which is to understand how to give back for the debt of one’s own existence by realising a role.