An Appreciation of Barbara Wright George’s “Learning to Love”
Christian Wertenbaker’s “Man in the Cosmos”
The Enneagram of G.I. Gurdjieff
An Appreciation of Barbara Wright George’s “Learning to Love”
This book is well-titled. Its subject is indeed “Learning to Love.” In no way is the title misleading because that is the book’s theme. Yet it is not a how-to-do-it book. Instead, it is a full record of a friendly, frank, and helpful person’s experiences in expressing and receiving love, as well has the conclusions that she has come to later in life concerning the constitution of human beings and our need for reciprocal affection and respect. As such it demonstrates in a personal way the strengths and weakness with respect to ourselves and the people in our lives.
So the title is apt but not unique; the subtitle, however, is both. “On the Way of Experience” is the interesting subtitle and it deserves comment. The knowledgeable reader immediately thinks of the various “ways” or “pathways” that may take one from self-absorption to engagements with ourselves and with other people. I used the word “engagements” but I could as well have used the words “encounters” or “relationships,” as does the book’s author, Barbara Wright George, with excitement and élan. Being helpful and establishing connections are what are important to her.
Learning to Love is a quite short book despite the presence of a Preface, twenty-five chapters, and an Acknowledgements section. It is only 124 pages in length, a paperback with a lovely cover designed by the author, and it is published by Epigraph Books of Rhinebeck, New York. (Copies are also available from Amazon.com.) The text is highly readable and each of the chapters is self-contained. If I were looking for words with which to express the theme of the book, they would come from the dedicatory page which has a sentence that begins like this: “When the idea of learning how to love first came to me …. ”
It is notable that those twelve words may be read in two different ways, rather than in one single way. (Permit me to begin to use the author’s first name; Mrs. George sounds too formal for this appreciation.) It is certain that Barbara had “learning how to love” in mind; but she might conceivably have had “learning how to love first” in mind. (Italics mine.) There is “love at first sight,” which is presumably a mutual undertaking, but there is also the fact that some people readily form the “love connection” as part of their natures. In this regard I think Barbara had the first meaning in mind, that she had to learn to love, but a close reading of the book’s chapters suggests that she learned the lesson that she had to love first to begin the process – be the first person to express and experience love.
The author does have ready access to her feelings, as my wife Ruth and I can attest after more than a decade of experiencing her friendship. As well, she has ready access to her innate creativity, as she paints appealingly, appreciates music and plays the piano movingly, and practices the Feldenkrais method, which is a form of therapy that seeks to align body movement to increase well-being. (From this formulation it should be apparent that I have no first-hand experience with the therapeutic methods of the Israeli teacher Moshé Feldenkrais.)
Unmentioned in the text but lurking behind every one of the twenty-five chapters is the influence of Work-related activities. (Here, again, I have no privileged knowledge, but I do know that she has a great many friends who are associated with the Work and that she is a leader as well as a practitioner of its teachings.)
Here is the biographical note that appears on the back cover of her book: “Barbara Wright George was born and educated in Western Colorado, and lived in San Francisco before moving to Canada in 2004. A musician and an artist since childhood, she has also been a teacher, editor, writer, and Feldenkrais practitioner. Widely read and a student of the world’s great religious traditions, she has visited many cities in the United States, Europe, and Australia. She served as Vice President of the Gurdjieff Foundation of California before moving to Toronto where she lives with her husband, Jim.”
The reference to the diminutive “Jim” rather than to the longer “James” is to a lanky man, her husband James George, a former Rhodes Scholar, who served as Canada’s High Commissioner to India in the 1960s and 1970s, and wrote three books on Work-related themes. For more information about the author of Learning to Love, a long interview with Barbara conducted in June 2009 may be found on the Web at gurdjieffbooks.wordpress.com/colombo-interviews-barbara-wright. Perhaps there should be a catch-up interview.
From the Preface we are made aware that the author is sharing with the reader what she learned to realize about love, the paramount insight being the following one: “I also realized that having loved something or someone even once, directly, without expectations or requirements, free of thoughts or overlaid images, I could never again not love that thing or that person.” That led to the insight that “this love had no opposite – it was either there or not there. And more and more often, I could find it again and it was there.” This notion of love brought to mind the mysterious substance that René Daumal called peradam in his novel Mount Analogue.
She explains that the composition of the present book, her first book but presumably not her last, is based on the insights which over a period of several years she jotted down on whatever paper was available – no computers here. “I came to believe that some parts of them, might be of interest and a help to a wider readership.” She adds, “These records tell what happened as a result of my experiments. They also describe a method that can be followed.”
Here she discusses what she likes and dislikes. “Necessities prompted me to explore disappointment, a negativity that still has the power to destroy …. ” She learned “to see more – to see all of life. I knew that for me this meant loving all of life.” The Preface moves on to self-observation and remembering. In italics she shares this insight: “The most precious thing is the ability simply to see another person without being taken by how they manifest.” She concludes, “I have learned how to see more deeply, how to study, and how to love. It is my sincere hope that if this has been possible for me, anyone can do it. But it is more than a hope. I know it is true.”
To give the reader a taste of the how the text is organized, I am offering this list of the titles of the twenty-five chapters: Beginnings, The Dark, The Cold, The Heat, Black Pepper, Jazz, Music, Sitting Quietly, Early Mornings, Solitude, Being Loved, My Parents, My Neighbour, My Companion, My Enemy, What Is Difficult, What Is Easy, Not Knowing, Not Too Busy, Disappointment, Truth, Order, The Idea of Death, Myself, Life.
It would take too long to summarize each chapter and illustrate it with quotes of its highlights. Doing so would diminish the reader’s pleasure in reading the text from cover to cover. Instead, here, at random, are insights that I caught along the way. There are seven of them, one for each letter of the author’s first name.
* “My life has required keeping just the right relation between the inner and the outer currents, with their little ripples and eddies – the various parts of a person that make us who we are.”
* “Loving myself is simply a by-product. It is the wondrous result of loving others.”
* “Is there no-one who is content to simply listen as I speak? It’s a real difficulty for me, this feeling of not being listened to. I want to find a way to live with that and it’s been added to my list of difficulties I want to love.”
* “Also, many years ago, a very wise man, Lord Pentland, once told me that the secret of inner work was to do one thing at a time, and I had tried it, not always with success. Now, remembering his words helped me once again.”
* “Human beings are not easy to love – other emotions get in the way.”
* “But our world, this planet Earth, surely is worthy of love and deserves being loved. Surely, it is able to receive whatever attention and love we can give. It might even love being loved in a way that is beyond our comprehension.”
* “Note: This chapter was reconstructed from notes and memory after the original was left on a plane going to Philadelphia. That’s when I learned a good travel lesson. Check the seat pocket before you leave the plane.”
From the last “insight” it can be seen that Barbara has a lightness of touch as well as a sense of humour. Each chapter offers a cornerstone from which to observe lives and relationships, and if read on a daily basis, the chapters would take one through a month of meditations, recollections, and considerations, all of them based on the author’s own experiences. There is no need for “book learning” here.
So the Acknowledgements section is a mass of thank-yous for the blessings received from, among others, the 16th Karmapa, H.H. the Dalai Lama, the Orthodox Patriarch of Antioch, and Swami Muktananda, “as well as others not so well known.” Though she never met G.I. Gurdjieff, she is certain that she has received his blessings.
Yet the primary influences on the author were those of the members of her closely knit family. “The support of my family has been and continues to be my deepest protection.” The members are mainly female, yet there are male members who joined the family and fitted in. There is also “love of my husband’s extended family, and of course, for him. To put it very simply, without him not much would be possible.”
The feeling I had when I read (and then reread) that last sentence is that while the contributions of the women and men in her family are substantial and beneficial, Barbara would have succeeded in life even if she had lived alone in her beloved Colorado or on a tropical island somewhere in the Pacific. But by instinct she yearns for the warmth, understanding, and acceptance of family life and companionship; by nature she is a woman who is both practical and accomplished.
Learning to Love makes it plain to the reader that her strength comes from her trust of love of people and nature and that this feature has enabled her to grow spiritually though not necessarily in a saintly manner! All this is apparent to the reader, for as she expresses it in these chapters, she has learned through the act of loving “to feel the greatness of life itself.”
19 July 2019
Christian Wertenbaker’s “Man in the Cosmos”
Here is a review of a book that examines G.I. Gurdjieff’s ideas in light of Modern Science. The book’s title is Man in the Cosmos.
The author of this thoughtful book is Christian Wertenbaker, a now-retired clinical neuro-ophthalmologist at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine of Yeshiva University in The Bronx, N.Y. The College’s website identifies the author and describes his work: “His interests include all areas of clinical neuro-ophthalmology, but especially eye movements and nystagmus, and the physiology of visual processing. He has authored or co-authored papers dealing with various aspects of clinical neuro-ophthalmology. “He is also particularly interested in the art of patient care, and in teaching this to residents. The detective work involved in obtaining a comprehensive history and examination and then making sense of the patient’s complaints and illness, and the judgment involved in choosing the best course of action are all aspects of this.”
Unless I miss my guess, Man in the Cosmos is Dr. Wertenbaker’s first book. It has been subtitled “An Inquiry into the Ideas of G.I. Gurdjieff from a Scientific Perspective.” What I like about this book, to express it briefly and to anticipate the drift of my argument, is that the author is serious about the words “scientific perspective.”
A good many books and semi-scholarly papers that examine the parallel relationship of Gurdjieff’s world view and the scientific world view are willing to subsume the latter under the rubric of the former. What Dr. Wertenbaker does is take the scientific consensus as the norm and then subsume Gurdjieff’s cosmology and psychology under it, a wiser course by far. The reader learns a little science along the way.
It is a handsome trade paperback that measures 6 inches by 9 inches. Its pagination runs as follows: xiv
+192+iv. It is clearly printed on an off-white stock which, for whatever reason, makes for ready reading. The publishing house is Codhill Press, which was founded in 2008 in New Paltz, N.Y., by David Applebaum while he was the editor of Parabola Magazine
. It was published in 2012.
The publisher writes about the mission of his publishing imprint: “Codhill Press is devoted exclusively to the advancement and appreciation of the finest works in poetry and prose which promise to search out important meanings for our lives. Its voice was conceived as lying at the intersection of spiritual, literary, and poetic thought. Its function was to provide texts for readers on a search for meaning and transcendent value.”
New Paltz, by the way, is the name of a village and a town located between Albany and New York City. It has an association with the anti-slavery fighter Sojourner Truth, boxer Floyd Patterson, and Mary Gordon the novelist. It is the location of a campus of the State University of New York. SUNY is the distributor of Codhill’s publications.
New Paltz is also the home of another publishing imprint, Solar Bound Press, which issued Sophia Wellbeloved’s ground-breaking Gurdjieff, Astrology and Beelzebub’s Tales: The Breakthrough Analysis of Gurdjieff’s Masterpiece. To risk a pun, there seems to be a “new pulse” at New Paltz.
Textually the present book consists of an Introduction plus nineteen essays which between 1997 and 2011 appeared in Parabola Magazine. About a dozen years ago I subscribed to this periodical but I allowed my subscription to lapse because I found it too much like a tossed salad for my taste, a little of this and a little of that, rather than a hearty, three-course meal.
But the issues that I read must have included Dr. Wertenbaker’s original articles, and the value of these was lost on me amid the plethora of lighter and familiar material reprinted from so many other sources. The result is that I must resolve to resubscribe to the periodical, ever mindful of the fact that, when accumulated, articles like these amount to more than the sum of their parts.
Earlier I used the words “scientific perspective,” and the value of this publication lies in the fact that this is precisely what the author offers the reader. The accumulated value of these essays amounts to a new and refreshing view of Gurdjieff’s cosmology and psychology.
There is no index but there are about three dozen black-and-white illustrations as well as source notes for each chapter. The clarity of expression must owe something to Dr. Wertenbaker’s clarity of vision and his concern for reality and illusion and what he calls (with respect to the Necker cube and by extension to the subject-matter of this exposition) “perceptual decision.” Here is an outline of the contents and the argument of the book.
In the Introduction the author states that his aim is to relate “two distinct areas of human knowledge: the mystical cosmology of G.I.Gurdjieff, based, according to him, on ancient wisdom, and the discoveries and theories of modern science.” He affirms that Gurdjieff “possessed a degree of awareness, attention, perception, knowledge, and ability to act that put him on another level compared to ordinary people,” so that it is fitting to take seriously his exposition of “more obscure and controversial ideas about the nature of the universe, of man, of the soul, and of their relationships.” Some of these ideas are indeed bizarre in conception and expression.
The author states that “the method of modern science is a generally valid and honest way to arrive at truths about the world,” despite the “caveat” that science “tries to be objective and to remove the subjectivity of the observer from its deliberations.” This turns out to be a major caveat”or caution. Finally, he adds, almost parenthetically, “There is nevertheless only one world, and so all truths about it must be compatible and related.” This need for consilience is the driving force behind the book.
In addition to his medical training and postgraduate studies in neurology and physiology, the author writes, “I also became a member of the Gurdjieff Foundation, devoted to exploring and pursuing Gurdjieff’s ideas and aims.” With characteristic honesty, he disarms the reader by adding, “I have not arrived at definite conclusions, and still do not know for sure whether many of Gurdjieff’s ideas are true.”
That was the Introduction. There are five sections, each one with its own chapters. The first section is called “Mathematics, the Science of Patterns.” Reading it is like listening to an audio lecture in the popular Great Courses series. We whiz through “Nature’s Patterns,” “Pythagoras in 1999,” and “Some Thoughts on the Enneagram” (to cite the headings of the three articles in this section).
Behind this section is the ancient argument waged by those who hold that mathematical concepts correspond to external realities against those who maintain that the concepts are subjective and procedural. What is unquestionable is the power of “patterns” and algorithms which reveal symmetries, whole and broken, in nature and in the human brain.
The chapter on Pythagoras takes the form of a lively dialogue between the author and the ancient philosopher who takes pride in the fact that “modern physics already has been forced to include the fact that the way in which a phenomenon is observed is an essential, though still mysterious, determinant of how reality manifests itself.”
There are nineteen pages devoted to “Some Thoughts on the Enneagram” and these amount to a concise and clearly written exposition of the patterns in nature that are illustrated by the nine-pointed diagram. The chapter is really a disquisition on mathematics and it is an expositor’s delight.
The Fibonacci series is evoked to show “Nature’s Patterns.” The analysis extends beyond P.D. Ouspensky’s pioneering disquisition on the figure in In Search of the Miraculous. Even so, the author admits, “Its resistance to comprehension indicates how far we really are from the level of understanding that Gurdjieff represented and embodied.”
The second section is titled “Vibrations: The Universal Medium of Exchange.” The author writes, “The most interesting and important part of Gurdjieff’s teaching is related to vibrations, and it seems to me that since his time his views have been increasingly validated by science.” Behind this chapter is the evolution of the general and special theories of Relativity and then of Quantum Mechanics: “a Pandora’s box of bizarre attributes that continue to confound those who wish to add light to the list of puzzles considered solved by science.”
These developments occurred along with the introduction of Gurdjieff’s ideas in the West. The paradoxes familiar to physicists are not unfamiliar to metaphysicians. “If we turn our contemplation away from the outer world and to the inner one, as the sages advise, a different reality becomes evident. Like light, consciousness has no place, and no shape. It is invisible yet illuminates everything. It is unimpeded by time or space.”
The third section is titled “The Inner and Outer Worlds.” The author puzzles over “the greatest riddle, the greatest mystery of all, aside from Creation itself,” and he identifies it as the connection between “the inner world and the outer world, and their relationship to each other.” He notes their interdependency, their correlations, and their dependencies. So the sense of “the mystical feeling of being connected to everything” may be an illusion but then again it may not. In a sense, everyone is “an entity that is separate, yet connected to everything.”
“Actually,” the author concludes, “there are three elements that make up a state of full awareness: awareness of the outer world, awareness of oneself through inner sensation and feeling, and awareness itself. Each of these involves different brain regions, and it may be that coordinated electrical activity between separate parts of the brain underlies the sense of self-consciousness. If so, the physical correlate of an inner life is a sufficiently complex electromagnetic pattern at the level of the entire nervous system.”
A significant concept here is what the author calls “semi-independent entities” – “an entity is like a living cell, with a semipermeable membrane that both defines it and connects it with the outside, allowing some substances to pass through in each direction and blocking others, in a dynamic equilibrium.” The cosmos is full of cells.
The chapter “Shadows of the Real World” evokes Plato’s metaphor of the cave, but even more than that Aladdin’s cave, as it permits the author to offer a disquisition on vision – the physical sort, though it seems it is not far from the other sort – ranging from three-dimensional imagery and three-brain to bilateral brains, to sensory perceptions which waffle before they harmonize.
Degrees of consciousness are mentioned. “Mozart could hear an entire composition all at once.” (Here he is paraphrasing Roland Penrose.) “Consciousness is a state in which a man knows all at once everything that he in general knows and in which he can see how little he does know and how many contradictions there are in what he knows.” (Here he quotes Gurdjieff via Ouspensky.)
There is a discussion of the role of the power of the faculty of imagination. In the same way that “imaginary numbers” are required to represent the dynamic nature of elementary particles, what I might call “imaginary powers” are required to perform certain human functions. “We don’t bump into things much, and can plan our meals well ahead, as well as fantasize endlessly about the opposite sex, which sometimes leads to action. In the view of many scientists, this is the origin and purpose of imagination.”
“In fact, the future is both largely predictable and completely unpredictable, but we do not live with this paradox, because for the most part we do not live consciously in the present.” Gurdjieff’s movements require the student to “maintain a constant awareness of bodily sensation and at the same time to visualize the next position to be taken. Thus the present comes into existence.”
The chapter “Awakening the Emotions” distinguishes between drives and emotions, with the help of the great psychologist William James; with the assistance of Antonio Damasio, he discusses feeling and emotions and this leads the author to suggest “self-consciousness is the result of the juxtaposition of internal and external sensation.” This is a growing point. The discussion extends to how “our instinctive-emotional reactions also have a direct effect on the activities of the cerebral cortex.”
Such effects produce “states” – arrangements of components, which (in terms of matter) may be solid, liquid, and gaseous. States change – liquids may freeze – “so the state of a substance changes its relationship to space and time, to other things, and to vibrations.”
A few pages are devoted to discussing thought, feeling, and awareness … and “conscience.” The states experienced by human beings are discontinuous in nature. Gurdjieff is quoted: “All our emotions are rudimentary organs of ‘something higher,’ e.g., fear may be the organ of future clairvoyance, anger of real force, etc.”
The last chapters of this section are called “The Ego and I” and “The Home of the Self.” If they are less substantial than other sections, it may be because, once introduced, the word “ego” is difficult to dissever from Freud’s use of it, and because the word “home” (which for some readers may bring to mind Gaston Bachelard’s brilliant observation in The Poetics of Space that regardless of where we were born every human being lives in a house with a basement, an attic, and other floors and rooms). Yet the chapters imply a hierarchical view of man’s place in the cosmos … his “home.”
The fourth section bears the title “Worlds within Worlds” and the material in its first chapter “The Teaching of the Cosmos” will be familiar to readers of In Search of the Miraculous and All and Everything. Long before proponents of String Theory, with its multiple universes, Gurdjieff taught that there was not one single cosmos but a series of related cosmoses. Long before the Gaia Hypothesis, he taught that everything in its own way is alive. The writing here is expository.
Sir Isaiah Berlin is identified with the phrase “incommensurable values” which refers to the fact that concepts like liberty and equality cannot be combined in equal measure. This applies to attempts to equate knowledge and belief, a form of squaring the circle. Dr. Wertenbaker writes, “In recent years, there has been an increasing interest in reconciling, or at least understanding the relationship between, science and spirituality. Neuroscientists are tackling the question of the neural correlate of consciousness, after avoiding the subject for a long time. Philosophers are seriously studying the sciences. Physicists find themselves pondering the relationship between their theories and age-old spiritual questions.”
In the chapters in this section the author gives a good overview of Gurdjieff’s ideas, as recorded by Ouspensky, and the insights into the subjective and objective nature of space and time identified with Newton, Heisenberg, Einstein, and the contemporary theoretical physicist Lee Smolin at the Perimeter Institute for Theoretical Physics. Scale is the key here, as is the overall cellular nature of a cosmos, which “selects which substances it will allow in or out.” In this way it resembles the cellular nature of man. Man is a cell in the cell of the cosmos.
The author takes the insight, which is a powerful one, and the argument well beyond the formulation above, introducing mechanical and conscious acts, advancing the average reader’s knowledge and appetite for speculation that would be free-wheeling except that it is based on the substrate of the notion of the cell.
The author introduces “a resonance with a higher level of consciousness,” but warns, “These concepts are certainly foreign to science, and well beyond the direct knowledge of most of us, so that one hesitates to even mention them, but they are at the core of Gurdjieff’s teaching.” Yet the incommensurability of such notions with those of science may be seen as a goad: “Perhaps over time Gurdjieff’s ideas will help to bring about an exact science which includes the inner and outer worlds, time and space and things, consciousness, energy and matter.”
Three more chapters – “Holy Earth,” “Laws, Miracles, and Science,” and “The Materiality of the Soul” – round out this section. The information here, both scientific and Gurdjieffian, will be familiar to readers interested in the conjunction of ancient wisdom and modern science, though the expression of it – done with great care to avoid hyperbole – will be found to be reassuring that a rational discussion of these ideas is possible. Behind it is the conviction that the quest to reconcile the traditional and the contemporary was seen by Gurdjieff as possible, for he wrote as follows:
“Everything in this universe can be weighted and measured. The absolute is as material, as weighable and measurable, as the moon, or as man. If the absolute is God, it means that God can be weighed and measured, resolved into component elements, “calculated,” and expressed in the form of a definitive formula.” The author concludes, “If there is a soul, it seems, it must conform to universal laws.” Science thus relieves the spiritual of the weight of bogus mysticism and diminishes when it does not eliminate the need for belief.
The fifth and last section is called “The Role of Man in the Cosmos,” which is essentially the theme of the book, though the reader may feel that what follows has already been subsumed by what preceded it in the fourth section. The chapter “The Fullness of the Void” examines the nature of thought and intuition and the modalities of knowledge (senses of perception and those of action) and their complexities. We take such input for granted, but not if we are scientists. “The central mystery of neuroscience, and a subject much debated today, is where, or how, or even why, consciousness awareness comes into this practice.”
The exposition here takes the form of a comparison and contrast between what contemporary scientists like Antonio Damasio and Paul MacLean conclude about the brain and what Gurdjieff largely through Ouspensky states about man. The author writes, intriguingly, “One could postulate, somewhat boldly, that the physical correlate of a more comprehensive consciousness is in fact the integrated electromagnetic activity of the brain, perhaps even of the whole body.” Perhaps the author steps too close to the edge when he adds, “Fully consciousness of myself, I become a part of everything.”
The chapter “The Cosmic Necessity of Suffering” is straight exposition of the Gurdjieffian view that suffering is inherent in creation because we are separated from creation because we are separated from ourselves. There is a reason for suffering and perhaps a purpose. “Possibly, if we took our cosmic duty seriously, our suffering could be less random and more appropriate.”
“Does Man Have Three Brains,” at thirty-nine pages, is the longest chapter, and a level-headed discussion of MacLean’s tri-brain theory, approached from various vantage-points. One of the vantage-points is Gurdjieff via Ouspensky. Here the exposition struck me as making non-controversial use of evidence and mainstream theory, but the author seems to feel otherwise, for he writes, “The ideas put forth here, while grounded in both inner and outer facts, are far away from current scientific understanding. They do not constitute a theory; rather they form a speculation, with many loose ends. But the issues addressed are fundamental and require confronting.”
The last chapter is titled “The Cosmic Metabolism of Form,” which is a serious way of saying “we are what we eat” and perhaps “eat or be eaten” – food, air, and impressions. A key conception here is the following sentence, which takes the reader pretty far from scientific fact but not from the Gurdjieffian perspective: “This vivification of impressions feeds our inner life, which needs conscious impressions to grow, and may also serve a larger purpose, enabling God to ‘see’ his own creation through us and other conscious observers throughout the universe.”
On the last page the author writes (in an outstanding phrase) that we are or can be “part of a great cosmic ecology of consciousness.” Because this is so we have the opportunity to become “part of everything on a conscious level, just as we are part of everything on the level of gross materiality.”
I closed my copy of Man in the Cosmos enriched and with the resolve to reopen the book at a later date to recall Dr. Wertenbaker’s presentation of scientific facts and theories, as well as his interpretation of Gurdjieff’s views on man’s nature and creation. It occurred to me the title of the book, while perfectly descriptive and appropriate, might even be inverted. It could be retitled The Cosmos in Man.
This review originally appeared in Sophia Wellbeloved’s gurdjieffbooks
website on June 11, 2013, and is reprinted here because Dr. Wertenbaker’s argument and expression remain in my mind as highwater marks in attempts to relate the Work to the theories and practices of Modern Science, especially in the fields of physics and cosmology.
Allow me now to add to those two fields the field of psychology. I find that Dr. Wertenbaker’s approach brings to my mind the two last sentences of Sigmund Freud’s study called The Future of an Illusion, which was originally published in 1927. One critic of that work was C.G. Jung who disagreed with its thesis, dismissing Freud’s argument as old-fashioned in terms of advances in science. Jung argues that Freud’s views “move within the confines of the outmoded rationalism and scientific materialism of the late nineteenth century.” Despite Jung’s dismissal, which fails to distinguish between science and speculation, Freud’s rational thesis retains its followers to this day.
Here are those two arresting sentences in the translation made by James Strachey in 1961: “No, our science is no illusion. But an illusion it would be to suppose that what science cannot give us we can get elsewhere.”
The Enneagram of G.I. Gurdjieff
It was while updating my original review of Man in the Cosmos that I learned that Christian Wertenbaker, its author, had been busy writing a second book. Indeed, it had already appeared – how that fact escaped me, I do not now know! – and its publisher is his regular one, Codhill Press.
The Enneagram of G.I. Gurdjieff, the new book, appeared in 2017 in two editions, a paperback edition and an ebook edition. I immediately ordered a copy from the publisher, but carelessly I ordered the electronic edition rather than the print edition. Within seconds I had an electronic copy of it on my computer screen, but what I really miss is the palpable feel of the hardcopy edition., even if I have to wait a week for it to be delivered.
So I divided the screen in half. On the left-hand side I now see the title page of the new book; on the right-hand side I see much of the work area of the screen and these words as I keyboard them. I am going to use this inadvertence on my part as an excuse to write a quite short review of Dr. Wertenbaker’s new book, rather than contribute a review if its argument that is long and detailed, as has been my wont. The review will be a grandiose notice rather than a chapter-by-chapter summary of the book’s contents.
On my bookshelves I have a number of books about the enneagram, including one that is very sophisticated, A.C.E. Blake’s The Intelligent Enneagram. Not only is the enneagram “intelligent” (Blake’s word) but Blake’s prose is elegant and intelligent too. I read it so many years ago that I would have to sit down and page through it to recall what points he made about the amazing symbol.
I remember quite vividly being introduced to this nine-sided line-drawing by P.D. Ouspensky in the early pages of In Search of the Miraculous.
In fact, I spent I estimate at least ninety minutes, pondering Ouspensky’s description of it, figuring out how it could be described as “unicursal,” a word with a specific meaning. Then I discovered through the use of paper and pencil how to draw it efficiently. Since then I take pleasure in demonstrating to anyone who is interested that it is indeed unicursal (that is, able to be drawn in one single continuous line).
“Mathematics, Metaphysics, Music, and Meaning” is the subtitle that the author has given his book and I am sure it would be possible, if I were so inclined and so trained, to devote a review apiece to each of these four M’s. Suffice it to say, I am going to follow this outline and then offer a précis of the contents to whet the appetite of the conscientious reader.
“The enneagram is a symbol that was introduced to the modern world by G.I. Gurdjieff, who said that it had previously been kept secret and that it represented a complete description of the laws governing the universe.” That is a great opening sentence and the author adds that “this book is an attempt to further this understanding, which will nevertheless remain incomplete but perhaps a little less so. In particular, I have tried to relate the enneagram to a variety of mathematical and scientific ideas, since these also deal with the laws that govern the universe.”
This is a tall order. “Nevertheless, there is only one reality, so it would seem useful to try to find connections between these different approaches, just as it seems useful to try to reconcile scientific and spiritual truths.” Here he quotes the unforgettable words of Ouspensky quoting Gurdjieff:
“For the man who is able to make use of it, the enneagram makes books and libraries entirely unnecessary. Everything can be included and read in the enneagram. A man may be quite alone in the desert and he can trace the enneagram in the sand and in it read the eternal laws of the universe. And every time he can learn something new, something he did not know before.”
Behind the Law of Seven and the Law of Three there is to found the “law of ninefoldness.” The numbers and their relationships are found in physics, in cosmology, in the Movements, and in veiled references in Theosophy and elsewhere. There are twenty chapters in all and all of them require some arithmetic and mathematics but curiously little or no algebra or calculus to be understood. It all seems so basic and yet so involved. Here are the chapter headings:
1. Introduction. 2. The Basic Mathematics of the Enneagram. 3. The Meanings of Symbols. 4. One, Two, Three, and Four. 5. Five and Ten. 6. Six and Symmetry. 7. The Unique Properties of the Number 7 and Its Relationships with the Number. 8. The Law of Seven and the Seven-tone Scale. 9. Eight, Nine, and the Symmetry Groups of the Enneagram. 10. The Creation of the World and the Three Dimensions of Time. 11. The Triangle and Eternity – 3, 6, and 9. 12. More on the Triangle, and the Mingling of Dimensions. 13. The Mirror Symmetry of the Enneagram. 14. The Four Normed Division Algebras. 15. Fermions and Bosons – Space and Time. 16. The Inner and Outer Worlds, and the Multiple Intertwined Aspects of the Enneagram. 17. The Enneagram in Movement(s). 18. More on the Law of Three. 19. More on the Law of Seven. 20. Conclusion.
The author continues, “The extent to which the patterns found in the enneagram are correlated with the laws of physics is largely unexplored, although intriguing parallels have been raised in the text. Nevertheless, it seems clear that mathematical patterns determine what is possible in the world, and the enneagram captures quite a few of the prominent patterns involving the relationships of the first 10 numbers.”
“In this book, I have elaborated on a large number of connections between various patterns of numbers, without tying everything all together into ashlar complete theory, or one that currently leads to precise predictions of experimental results. I strongly suspect that most of the patterns found in the enneagram reflect real correlations with the actual laws that govern things, and are not spurious, but the search for truth is always filled with pitfalls.”
A Glossary follows with twelve of Gurdjieff’s relevant neologisms (like stopinder), and then there are one dozen References to technical and semi-technical publications, a veritable reading list for students so inclined. For years I enjoyed reading the columns devoted to “recreational mathematics” that were contributed month after month by Martin Gardner to issues of Scientific American. That same excitement I experienced reading these columns about aspects of the enneagram.
To give the reader of this review of Dr. Wertenbaker’s study of the enneagram a taste of some of his observations, I am including here five short passages from the text to illustrate some of the general points made by the author. I am sidestepping the illustrations and the mathematical formulae.
For Gurdjieff, as for Pythagoras, who was one of the few historical figures that Gurdjieff greatly admired, numbers, particularly the first 10, were not only tools for calculation but also meaningful symbols related to fundamental truths about the organization of the world. Numbers also have geometric representations, which are equivalent symbols. So, 2 can be represented by an equal sign or just by a line between two points, 3 by a triangle, 4 by a cross or square, 5 by a pentagon or five-pointed star, 6 by a hexagon or six-pointed star, etc.
It has been evident since the advent of quantum mechanics and relativity theory that the fundamental patterns that underlie the construction of the world are not what we imagine them to be based on our interactions with terrestrial materiality. We imagine that atoms are “little things” that aggregate to form bigger things, just like grains of sand in a sandpile. Some very complicated bigger things, like animals, are able to interact with other things and even be aware of them. But the fundamental constituents of matter are not describable as things, or even miniature solar systems – are they waves, or particles, or both, or neither? Mathematically, they are vibrations but not vibrations of anything substantial; rather they are vibrations of possibility (probability amplitudes). Since atoms and subatomic particles also persist in ordinary time, all three dimensions of time are represented: possibility, eternity – as vibration – , and ordinary time. So, atoms might be regarded not so much as little “things” but rather as little bundles of three-dimensional time.
At one time it was thought that all the components of a conscious perception are brought together in a place in the brain where consciousness resides, but no such place has been found. It is now increasingly evident that conscious perception comes together not in a place, but in time, by means of synchronized rhythms among the different brain areas involved. This gives new meaning to the concept of presence. It is likely that more inclusive levels of consciousness correspond to more global brain wave harmonizations.
The enneagram, as interpreted here and elsewhere (Bennett, Blake) suggests possible developments in our understanding of universal laws, especially with regard to the nature of time and the role of consciousness, both of which have remained stubborn enigmas for scientists so far …. The inclusion of time and consciousness, and of both the inner world of awareness and outer world of phenomena, in the enneagram suggests a larger view than is currently encompassed by modern science, as befits a “universal symbol,” while the predictive precision of modern science is missing, so far, in the interpretations of the enneagram. This reflects the different kinds of precision exemplified by a symbol as opposed to a formula …. One would hope for a science that could include both. Perhaps those with more training in mathematics and physics than I could take these explorations further.
I am well aware of the fact that, given enough bits of information, one can make connections between almost anything and almost anything else. For instance, if one took all the measurements of the Empire State Building, such as the sizes of the windows and doors, the distances between this and that, the numbers of screws of given sizes, etc., etc., one could possibly, by selectively picking some of these numbers, make a connection between the measurements of the building and, say, the orbits of the planets, which would be entirely spurious. Humans are always looking for explanatory patterns, and some that we come up with seem arbitrary and unrelated to the real workings of the world. On the other hand, it would seem that we look for patterns because we are tuned to the real patterns that govern things. In this book, I have elaborated on a large number of connections between various patterns of numbers, without tying everything all together into a complete theory, or one that currently leads to precise predictions of experimental results. I strongly suspect that most of the patterns found in the enneagram reflect real correlations with the actual laws that govern things, and are not spurious, but the search for truth is always filled with pitfalls.
I had the feeling, reading Dr. Wertenbaker’s clearly argued and well illustrated chapters, that I was back in that world of recreational mathematics. I wonder if the modern incarnation of the Philosopher’s Stone is indeed the enneagram, for it seems to have so many mysteries (or at least unexpected and revealing relationships) preserved in its ashlar. And I also find myself wondering if Dr. Wertenbaker feels the same way as I do. The reason I raise this possibility is because at the end of Chapter 1, facing the need to write nineteen more chapters, he adds, perhaps sheepishly, “The enneagram remains a great mystery.”
Gurdjieff might well have agreed.
1 Aug. 2019