The Gurdjieff Journal—Fourth Way Perspectives

Working in the World:
Machines or Son of God



Mr. Gurdjieff says we are "images of God." He also says we are "machines." How could we be both images of God and machines? How to understand this? The gulf between the two is so immeasurable the contradiction seems unresolvable.

The mind lives in images, either those of perception or memory. Our senses are like a camera constantly recording the environment, whether consciously or not. If we think of these images being recorded on a kind of bioplasmic camera film, then, as we know, at least before the day of the digital camera, there are two images: a negative image, one yet to be developed; and a positive image, one which is developed. To be developed, the image had to first be exposed to light and then be passed through a solution and dried. With time, like magic, the negative image becomes positive. The positive image is not different than the negative. It was latent in the negative, like the tree in the seed, but has to be developed. And so, as long as we remain undeveloped, we remain negative images, that is, machines. Developed—truly awakening to our real self—we cease to be a machine and become an image of God.

It is difficult to think of ourselves as being a machine. What might help is if we modify the word with bioplasmic—that is, we are bioplasmic machines, not made of plastic or iron or steel, but all the same machines, just a different variety.

Man as Industrial Palace

Der Mensch als Industriepalast (Man as Industrial Palace), Fritz Kahn, Stuttgart, 1926


Still, something in me rejects this out of hand. "I'm not a machine," I tell myself.

Let me first go beyond the question of the "I" that we all take ourselves to be and focus on the meaning of the word "machine."

What is a machine? It is something that has been made in order to accomplish a given task or tasks. It is programmed to do a task or series of tasks as efficiently as possible.

Now, are we programmed?

The word we immediately reject—we don't like to think of ourselves in that way—but the word "conditioned" is more acceptable as it is much used in psychology and sociology. We are conditioned by our heredity, our parents, peers and society. We are also conditioned by the world-time in which we live. The conditioning involves our memory, which is based on our experiences, real and imagined, some of which we remember and much of which we don't. The most fundamental conditioning happens between our birth and about the age of nine years. Our parents, for example, are the primary male and female images. The difference between father and mother we take in very early. One feeds and comforts and the other—well, what does the other do? Sort of hangs around, takes some of our mother's attention from us. The image of the father doesn't come into definition until much later.

But what is it that is perceiving and receiving these images and all the succeeding ones? Certainly I take the images in sensorially. But I also do so instinctively, and in terms of feeling and, lastly, as the head brain develops, I take in images mentally.

Different Speeds & Qualities of Energy

Each of these—instinctive, feeling and intellectual—is a bioplasmic brain. They operate at different speeds and with different qualities of energy. So that at one and the same time I can say feeling-wise, I like someone, mentally be impressed with them, but instinctively distrust them. So I am a bioplasmic machine composed of three smaller machines, and each is programmed, that is, conditioned by experience.

Now what is this "I" that everyone keeps referring to? We commonly take this to be the unchanging center of all my experience, to which we ascribe a "doer." Given our life experiences, we are either totally in love with ourselves as a Master of the Universe, albeit in miniature form, or as one tarred with guilt and self-loathing. Other than megalomaniacs and professional victims, don't we all secretly lie somewhere along that spectrum?

Now what about this world-time we live in as a conditioning agent? Certainly there have been many world-times before us. Just a quick journey back in time shows us that our ancestors lived in a hunter-gather society, which was succeeded by the agrarian, and then, in the early 1800s, came the industrial, followed in the early 1900s by mass production and scientific management, which established modern industrialization. With the 1940s came computers, then semiconductors in the 1950s, followed by microprocessors and artificial intelligence. These, and many other discoveries and inventions, are the foundations of the world-time we live in now, which I call the Technological.

The Technological has given birth to the "Son of Man," that is, to binary computerization and robotization. Its exponential acceleration of power has many experts, such as Ray Kurzweil, author of The Age of Spiritual Machines and the inventor of speech recognition technology, predicting that human intelligence will be totally outstripped by the year 2020. This, they believe, will very shortly lead to a human-machine interface in which the human brain is ported into robots.

So while we revel in all the marvels of communication and computation that Technology offers us, there is, as with everything, a downside—that is, that Technology will render us nothing but bar codes, worker ants, in a great and interlocking and self-regulating computerized and roboticized world in which the "oil" of this time will be electricity to run the machines and water to cool them down.

This threat has long been with us. It was Samuel Butler in New Zealand who first published an essay on the threat of "mechanical consciousness" not ten years ago, or even a hundred, but in 1853! The gentleman had foresight, no?

The fear is well-founded as long as we remain machines. We will simply want to become better machines. In so identifying ourselves, we will reduce ourselves to the level of a machine—just cogs in a vast wheel of production, with human beings used as nothing more than a part of the raw materials and resources—and forfeit our possibility for spiritual self-transformation.

To understand what we are up against we must first understand Technology, its essence—what it is in itself. It is not something alien but a part of us. Aristotle defined man as "the rational animal." Technology is simply our rational part developed to an extraordinary degree. It challenges us to awaken to a new level of ourselves or to suffer the consequences. We must strive to understand the essence of Technology. As it is a part of us, to understand it we must first know our own essence.

What are we? Are we bioplasmic machines or not? If we deny this question, then we begin on too high a level; that is, we assume our oneness, that we have free will, an ability to do. We need to know whether or not, and in what way, we are machines. But to know ourselves as machines—what is it that will know it? Computers and robots can never know what they are. Self-consciousness they can never have. Self-consciousness is only possible for a human being.

But our consciousness has become so identified with the working of our three brains—intellectual, emotional and instinctive—that it is one with them. If we can rightly learn to observe ourselves impartially we will see that our functioning is that of a machine. And as we suffer this—and what is suffering but our self-image?—our consciousness, that which we truly are and why we are images of God, separates from the functioning of the machine and begins to control it. In that way, we will cease to be a machine. So, in awakening to a true consciousness of self, it is realized that I am both a machine and not a machine. I am is something far greater.

Now, the question is how to do this?

As with developing a negative image—where is the light? where is the solution? The light and the solution are the seminal, esoteric and sacred teaching that G.I. Gurdjieff brought to the West called The Fourth Way. The teaching begins by admitting the very danger that confronts mankind—that man is a machine; that we are bioplasmic machines in terms of our identification with the mechanicality of our three centers—mental, emotional, instinctive. Our consciousness, as we've said, has been so attracted by the activity of these centers that it has lost itself in them. We can only cease to be machines when we learn to have the sincerity to impartially see the truth of our mechanicality, our conditioning.

But how to see this if I am a machine?

How can a machine see itself?

It can't. But the consciousness which we fundamentally are can. Each of us has a certain small amount of freedom to choose—if we choose to become awake and have the knowledge to do so, then an inner space will be created and the consciousness that is our true identity will gradually separate from the mechanical activity of the machine. This knowledge is fundamental to The Fourth Way. And it is why The Fourth Way is the teaching for our time.

—William Patrick Patterson, speaking about his new book, Spiritual Survival in a Radically Changing World-Time


If the ideas and perspectives you've found in this article are of interest, please subscribe to The Gurdjieff Journal. We promise you four lively, provocative issues of the only international journal devoted to exploring self-transformation in the contemporary world and the teaching of G. I. Gurdjieff. The Gurdjieff Journal publishes interviews, book excerpts, essays and book reviews. It does not, and will not, carry advertising. For its publication, it relies solely on the support of its readership.

Subscription Information

» Articles
    » Essays
    » Interviews
    » Working in the World
    » Meetings
    » Film Reviews
    » Book Reviews
    » Subscription Information
    » Description of Back Issues







Recommend This Page: