Keith A. Buzzell: Man – A Three Brained Being
Keith A. Buzzell, Man – A Three Brained Being (Resonant Aspects of Modern Science and the Gurdjieff Teaching), 2nd edition, edited by John Amaral, Marlena Buzzell, Bonnie Phillips and Toddy Smyth, Fifth Press, Salt Lake City, 2007
139 pages, including a glossary of specialist terms, full colour llustrations and a coloured book mark.
This book is unique in the Gurdjieff tradition. It is an original contribution to the study of man, and a stepping stone to further study. The quality of thought displayed is so high as to itself provide a subtle and powerful impression. It could have been subtitled “how and why the brains in man form images, what those images do, and how this can be done in either a healthy or an unhealthy way”.
Dr Buzzell’s avowed aim is to “blend a scientific perspective on the physical Universe and on human biology with a perspective on the possibility of self-transformation as taught by G.I. Gurdjieff.” (p.131) These two domains, physical science and Gurdjieff’s teaching (perhaps a species of metaphysical science), have both practical and theoretical applications. It is Dr Buzzell’s privilege (hereafter
“Buzzell”) to explore and relate the practical and the theoretical aspects of each. Buzzell was educated and trained as a physician, musician and scientist, and has put his good fortune to good use, understanding as he does that “the broad spectrum of human experiences that must be lived …” (p. 131, all italics in quotes are found in the original).
Buzzell invites the reader to “probe deeper”; not just to study his (i.e. Buzzell’s own ideas) but to individually apply what they understand in the light of their own lived experiences. His vision is one where many individuals will strive to apply Gurdjieff’s system and method in the groups or alone. Then, on the basis of that experience, they come into relation with each other to “share, to commune with, to support and to come into abiding relationship with each other.” (p.131)
Art and Illustrations
The cover is thicker than is usual with paperbacks. On the front, a blue netting design stretches over a light grey background. The centre is filled by a diagram in thin white lines, being a large circle with a slightly smaller circle concentrically inside it, filled with an set of interlocking triangles. The three corners of the largest upright triangle are each marked by a blue cluster, roughly circular, but with soft edges. It is as if the blue netting of the background is gathered into the white outlined circles and concentrated at these three corners. The design is redolent of space/time not being uniform, but concentrated by massy objects. We sense harmony, geometry, law, manifestation and peaceful transition in its imagery of simple forms meeting to cause more complex forms and concentrations to arise.
The page before the table of contents bears one of many full colour illustrations. Below it lies the dedication “For All Our Children and Grandchildren”. The ideas in this book are links in a chain which began even before Gurdjieff. The book as a whole fills a place in, and carries forward, a broad tradition which flows down from a great horizon. In a deft manner, the illustrations for this book, but especially the front cover, reflect the insight that both the perspectives of modern science and Gurdjieff’s ideas “herald a startlingly new view of our Universe.” (p. 3).
The book is organized into an introduction and four chapters. Each of these is preceded by a page bearing a few short quotations. Each of those pages is grey with a geometric figure, perhaps one could call it an unfolded triangle, ghosted in white lines. Numerous diagrams, some in colour, are provided. One has only to open the volume to see that the publisher does not just keep a commercial eye on the packaging: as one can fairly say of most presses. Rather, the press, its artists,
editors, author and staff, have collaborated in an endeavour at once
scientific, artistic and crafted.
The introduction asks: what is new since the time of Gurdjieff? The answer is found in the “technological application of the principles of relativity and quantum mechanics”, what Buzzell calls “new motions” (pp.3-4). This makes possible, among other things, the new imaging technologies of television, computer terminals, video games, internet and so on. These pump out images which the brain must take as real (pp.5-6), and present reality in a manner and at a speed which is not natural to our three brains. One result is that seeing everything available we want everything now (as stated at p.6). I had already thought that the “entertainment” industry, compressing the events of days, weeks and even years into an “action-packed” 90 minutes has had a part in making us impatient of process (e.g. in
learning). Gurdjieff made similar observations in his chapter on “Art”, but the situation has deteriorated since his time, and Buzzell illustrates how and why. As he states, the ideal or natural “time-of-relationship” for people is slower than what we presently allow (p.7). As Buzzell indicates, the possibility of personal transformation depends upon how the brains intentionally digest the images they form (p.8). And like every process, this has a time. If we squander it, if that time is not respected, nature does not give us that period over again. For example, if the fingers of the developing foetus are not differentiated in time, the body “continues its surge towards overall completion and makes compromises around uncompleted parts”, and each brain does the same (p. 6).
Chapter 1 is titled “New Concepts”. In 1915 Gurdjieff’s idea of man as a three-brained being was, “revolutionary”(p.11). In the 1950s, the idea of the triune brain was independently introduced to contemporary science by MacLean, who used the term “mentation” for “a brained process”, just as Gurdjieff did. However, MacLean’s work is not influential in today’s neuroscience (p. 12). The appearance of “brained” beings represents “the Great Turning” (p. 13):
This turning consisted of the evolution of biological mechanisms (one-brained beings) which could construct sensory images of a resonant portion of the forms and energies of the world external to itself. (p. 13)
Both Gurdjieff’s theory of “hydrogens” and modern chemistry recognize the significance of electromagnetic bonding energies in holding “states of matter” together (p. 14). As Buzzell correctly notes, the existence of other galaxies was not recognized until the late 1920s (p. 15), yet other galaxies are acknowledged in the Ray of Creation (e.g. Miraculous p. 80). I agree with him that these anticipations of
modern science are extraordinary. Buzzell takes the study of hydrogens further than I have elsewhere seen, and explains how H48 and 24, can now be seen to represent neural impulses and associative neural nets, respectively, unknown substances in 1915 (pp.16-7). With H12:
… the procreative (or germinative) matter/energy enters. It can also be understood as the first of Gurdjieff’s “spiritual” matters. … At the physical body level of procreation, it is the higher force at the essentially solar level of new creation – in the new, hydrogen-bonded linkages of our DNA. (p. 17)
The role of H12 in the development of individuality gives an objective basis for the analogy between sun and “real I”. It also provides a startlingly concrete dimension to Gurdjieff’s concept, passed on orally, of “creating sun in oneself.” A table of matters on p. 18 shows how each hydrogen relates to the substances known to science,
for example, H6 corresponds to galactic “cloud” interaction, and H12 to the state of plasma. My study of the ancient solar theology had already shown me that Gurdjieff’s many references to the sun were intended literally as well as metaphorically.
Buzzell also studies one of the most sadly neglected aspects of the ideas, the triads. In particular, he has an illuminating passage about the triad of transformation, 2-1-3 (pp.24-5). I have been collating the diverse indications on the triads, and Buzzell’s exposition absolutely confirms and extends what I have been able to piece together. His insight that “presence has a distinct and unique quality within each of the three forces of the triad …” explains something which is missing in Ouspensky’s account, and which I sensed had to be missing – but I could not see where the gap was. Now I can. This ends chapter 1.
Chapter 2 deals with “The Triune Brain”. Buzzell brings a new perspective to faith and hope, explains “wholing” (pp.30-1), images and resonance (pp.32-3), and while he does not refer to Gurdjieff here, his comments on vision (p. 34) elucidate why Gurdjieff privileged sight (Beelzebub at pp. 468-75, the white ray of light corresponds to the ‘common-integral vibration of all sources of actualizing’, etc). Buzzell goes on to deal with the other senses, both outer and inner, and his treatment of smell is particularly fascinating (pp. 36 and 43). He writes of the “sense of I”, the Great Traditions and their ossification, and the scientific method, summing up the chapter with “life” (p. 59).
Chapter 3, “Consciousness as the Coalescence of Images” shows how “awareness of various aspects of the world at and beyond the body surface is the most elemental or simple conscious state” (p. 70). In doing so, Buzzell adds further layers to what he has written about the brain and the senses; noting the sense of smell at p. 66. This chapter brings one to a sense of wonder at the image-making capacities of brained beings, the workings of association, memory, time, and the development of language. Buzzell’s pregnant comments on language at p.75 open new vistas on Gurdjieff’s remarks in Beelzebub and Remarkable Men. Over several pages, Buzzell describes how each brain receives impressions, forms images and associations, contributes to a different experience of time and to the development of human capacities. Then,
at pp. 78-9, he shows how although PET and MRI can show how different parts of the brain act when listening, nonetheless, we are not aware of that process but of the “coalescence of image”. When that image is one of lawfulness in the external world, the scientific method is possible (pp. 79 and 81, and illustrations 8 and 10). At the end of the chapter, Buzzell treats of “attention” and “will”, of which he says:
The Will, when understood as a truly independent source of decisioning … is higher (in potency) than impulse, image, consciousness or attention. We assign the potency of the Will to the em-force itself. (p. 87)
One has the feeling by now, that the black and white outline of the Ray of Creation we know from Ouspensky is being coloured in. Chapter 4 is headed: “The Digestion of Food, Air and Impressions: A Metaphor for Human Transformation.” Perhaps the nub of the book is here. Buzzell stresses that Gurdjieff’s discussion of these topics is metaphorical, and that even the Ray must be understood in such a way. I received a
shock for my understanding when I read Buzzell’s comment on the note SI, “freedom from the past, blending of outer and inner” (p. 94). Then follows an important elaboration of In Search of the Miraculous. First, the magnificent colour diagram on p. 96 does something I should have done for myself long ago, and charts the development of the air and impressions octaves beyond what is in Miraculous. The lengthy treatment of the foods, the processes to which they correspond, and which cosmic phenomena relate to the hydrogens at each level is, to my mind, an essential direction for anyone trying to make Gurdjieff’s ideas practical for themselves. What Buzzell does is clothe the abstract black and white lines of the food diagram from Miraculous in flesh, blood, oxygen, vitamins, hormones, and other things besides.
The treatment of impressions as food probably does not say so much which many of us have not already suspected: but it is put together and explained concisely and with authority.
This last chapter includes some interesting points and quotations, such as one from Tracol (p. 108). It holds together rather nicely, while covering many aspects of food ingestion and digestion, and relating it to the conscious evolution of man, this triune-brained being. One thing which I think might supplement the treatment of breathing (p. 112) is a reference to the subtle pauses in breathing. These pauses, and indeed, the entire rhythm of the breath, are important in the digestion of the air, one’s emotional state and indeed the tempo and state of one’s body. Further, Buzzell appreciates
the importance of Gurdjieff’s exercises (see pp. 112-3 for details). One will not persevere with the exercises, even if one has the good fortune to receive them, unless one knows of their significance and so values them.
Once the three foods have entered the body (and I suspect that the ingestion of impressions actually begins in the atmosphere of the body) the digestive products of the three foods are blended within the body’s inner circulation (pp. 116-7, pointing directly to Gurdjieff’s “blending” exercises). The three food octaves can, with the aid of the first conscious shock, come to the triad RE24, FA24, LA24 (p. 118). Conscious images are made of H24, once can even say that for us H24 is conscious images (extrapolating from pp.119-20). With this shock and its conscious images, there appears a presence or inner witness (p. 119). This leads to the critical point:
The effort to maintain the separation of a presence from the created images is the key to the potency inherent in self-remembering. If one loses this state of separation, identification with the image instantly takes place … (p. 119)
Without this separation, the Sacred Dances, which Buzzell says can represent “attentioned movement” (p. 121) would be gymnastics. The book then moves on to what may be the most important part, the treatment of the second conscious shock.
Of course, there are some typographical errors, but not many. The contents reads “coalition” for “coalescence”; p. 55 line 6, read “in” before “vention”; p. 62 paragraph 1, place a full stop after “independently”.
Comments I consider this an important book. I think that to come to the best practical understanding of Gurdjieff’s ideas and methods possible we must engage with these issues: thus the third Being-Obligolnian-Striving. If this book is found difficult, and it is difficult in parts, that is a challenge. What would be the value of a book on this topic which was easy? Although Buzzell has qualified himself as an Oskianotsner (Beelzebub p. 1122), he cannot fulfil this role without readers who will study not just the book but develop the legacy and apply it.
Some people affect to despise theories, they say they just want practice. This is juvenile. Could one imagine any scientist, let alone a Pooloodjistius, who had never studied theory, had no maths no physic no chemistry, but said “let me loose in the laboratory”? Of course both are needed. In fact, even to dismiss theory is to create a theory as to why other theories are useless. As Chesterton said in another context, it is like declaring: “Away with diagnosis, medicines and exercise: just give me health!”
This is a book which makes connections and invites further study and research. For example, what about the role of fasting? Another interesting field lies with this idea that it is the mark of a master to be able to refrain from acting. One of Mr Adie’s former pupils has told me that physiological evidence shows that the “action” of refraining from acting aborts the processes which usually dominate our psyches, and allows new and beneficial processes to take place. Perhaps someone who is qualified shall research it. Another field for Dr Buzzell?
Postscript on the triads (26 September 2009): It is significant that the triads of psycho-transformism are 2 1 3 and 2 3 1 (P.D. Ouspensky, A Record of Meetings, 163). They each begin with 2. The involving triads of destruction are 1 3 2 and crime 3 1 2 (A Record of Meetings, 161 and 185) both end on 2. They can then repeat with great ease, because they proceed mechanically. But, at the same time, precisely
because they end with 2 they offer exactly the right opportunity for commencing one of the triads of psycho-transformism, that is, construction 2 1 3 and self-remembering 2 3 1. I think that with this insight the doctrine of the triads becomes practical, and the understanding of it can then tip the balance when struggles seem unavailing by entering as the third force.
Joseph Azize has published in ancient history, law and Gurdjieff studies. His first book The Phoenician Solar Theology treated ancient Phoenician religion as possessing a spiritual depth comparative with Neoplatonism, to which it contributed through Iamblichos. The second book, “Gilgamesh and the World of Assyria”, was jointly edited with Noel Weeks. It includes his article arguing that the Carthaginians did not practice child sacrifice.
The third book, George Mountford Adie: A Gurdjieff Pupil in Australia represents his attempt to present his teacher (a direct pupil of Gurdjieff and Ouspensky) to an international audience.The fourth book, edited and written with Peter El Khouri and Ed Finnane, is a new edition of Britts Civil Precedents. He recommends it to anyone planning to bring proceedings in an Australian court of law.