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Go, Plavan N.
Working with Arrows: a Linguistic Guide to Active Mentation
Entropy and the Laws of World-creation and World-maintenance

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Go, Plavan N.
Plavan N. Go was initiated to the ideas of Gurdjieff in 1984 through a Japanese translation project of the Beelzebub's Tales to His Grandson. He has studied the Movements since 1990, and involved in the work around the Movements at Osho Commune International (India) up to 2001.

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Working with Arrows: a Linguistic Guide to Active Mentation

Substantially revised on: 2003-10-21

Buddhism is the first religion which brought this message to the world: that your religions, your philosophies, are more grounded in your linguistic patterns than in anything else. And if you can understand your language better, you will be able to understand your inner processes better. He [Buddha] was the first linguist, and his insight is tremendously meaningful.
(Osho, The Discipline of Transcendence, Vol. 1, #10)


In the beginning of "Beelzebub's Tales to His Grandson, " Gurdjieff says that anyone who wishes to be a conscious thinker has to know that a man is capable of two types of mentation: "mentation by thought" and "mentation by form." Further he says that the exact meaning of all writing has to be grasped by both types of mentation.

Linguists today are aware of this second type of mentation and associates it with general patterns of perception shared by all human beings and also by animals to a certain extent. Linguists call them "semantic structures" even though this naming is narrow and misleading. A semantic structure is not only semantic but also indicative of the geometrical configuration of our world perception, where "forms" (nouns) can exist only in their relationship with a certain type of action (verb):

I --(Touch)--> You
You --(Watch)--> Me

Nouns such as "I" and "You" are labels that can be replaced by the mental pictures of "I" and "You". Verbs such as "touch" and "watch" point to our sensation-based memory of corresponding actions. Thus we can say that "mentation by form" is essentially a nonverbal task even though it can be assisted by the use of words as labels and pointers.

When we make a statement about a definite perception, the following process takes place:

Objective reality -(1)-> Perceived reality -(2)-> Verbally-formulated reality

When someone else tries to understand the statement, the process is reversed: the listener infers the geometrical structure of the speaker's perception by analyzing the statement.

With this acknowledgment of "mentation by form," a new branch of linguistics was born that is no more a boring study of grammatical rules. In this new branch of linguistics, linguists study the laws that govern the structure of our perception along with the grammatical rules applicable to the conversion of that structure into a sentence structure (Arrow 2 above).

These studies also reveal the common limitations and errors of our mind that restrict the quality of the two reality-conversion processes (Arrows 1 and 2 above). In fact, the conventional way of using an arrow as shown below for describing a perception includes a serious error that linguists today are aware of:

I --> the observed phenomenon

Since Ouspensky chose this way of using an arrow when he described the "division of attention" as the characteristic feature of self-remembering, I will discuss about it in the second half of this essay after showing you a different way of using arrows for describing perceptions adopted by linguists today.

About 15 years ago, I was professionally involved in activities in this field, daily conducting the paid exercise of converting sentences (mentation by thought) into structures of perception (mentation by form) and vice versa. This exercise substantially changed the way I think, read, write, listen and speak; helped in my career as a translator and writer; and more recently shaped my unique way of using language in conducting a joint exploration of our true nature in a group format. This essay provides you with minimum information required for conducting a similar exercise.

Linguistics and "Mentation by Form"

According to this information, it was customary in long-past centuries on Earth for every man bold enough to aspire to the right to be considered by others and to consider himself a "conscious thinker" to be instructed, while still in the early years of his responsible existence, that man has two kinds of mentation one kind, mentation by thought, expressed by words always possessing a relative meaning, and another kind, proper to all animals as well as to man, which I would call "mentation by form."
(Gurdjieff, Beelzebubs Tales to His Grandson , p. 15)

The linguistic study of "mentation by form" and its relationship with "mentation by thought" started about 20 years after Gurdjieffs death. Two linguists are known to have built the foundation of these studies: Noam Chomsky and Charles Fillmore. Chomsky studied the relationship between language and mind while Fillmore established the "case grammar" theory. The case grammar theory enabled linguists to determine the geometrical structure of corresponding perception by analyzing a sentence in terms of verb-noun relationships.

"Mentation by form" is the process of perception that precedes verbal formulation. "Mentation by form" can be assisted effectively or ineffectively by the use of words as labels, pointers, and holders of attention. Nevertheless, "mentation by form" can be conducted without relying on or being constrained by grammatical rules. It is essentially a nonverbal task that depends more on our spatial awareness, movement awareness, relationship awareness, and self-awareness than on our linguistic proficiency.

"Mentation by thought," on the other hand, corresponds to mental processes that involve language, which has much less capability for representing our potentially multi-dimensional perception of reality. The quality of "mentation by thought" depends on its connection with "mentation by form." Without this connection, thinking degenerates into "associations."

In the last few decades, studies in this field were actively conducted by developers of Natural Language Processing (NLP) and machine translation methodologies. They have found that our languages are too subjective and idiosyncratic to be handled effectively as they are by a computer, and therefore looked for a way to convert our natural language into a more universal format. From 1988 to 1989, I was involved in activities in this field as a professional linguist supporting the development of a Japanese-English translation system at a major computer manufacturer in Japan.

In the field of machine translation, the phrase-to-phrase conversion method proved to be successful only between languages that have identical grammatical structures. To effectively translate Japanese into English, it was found to be necessary to rely on "mentation by form" as had been predicted by Gurdjieff:

The second kind of mentation, that is, "mentation by form" through which, by the way, the exact meaning of all writing should be perceived and then assimilated . . . (ibid, p. 15)

The machine translation system developed by my former colleagues converts a Japanese sentence into a semantic structure (geometrical model of the corresponding perception) and then generates an English sentence out of it. In these processes, words disappear into a form of perception and then reappear from that form of perception.

This method of translation, though handicapped by the limited ability of language in fully representing the geometrical structure of our perception, was theoretically proved to be quite effective. Thus, the toughest problem in translation was found to be the mismatch of concepts conveyed by words in different languages rather than the difference of grammatical structures between different languages. For example, the machine translation between English and French has reached a level of refinement satisfactory for practical use while the machine translation between English and Japanese is still of very poor quality. The main reason for this handicap is not the difference of grammatical structures but the mismatch of the meanings and concepts attached to words in the two different language systems. This problem is less likely to happen between two languages that share many words with common roots.

The second kind of mentation, that is, "mentation by form" through which, by the way, the exact meaning of all writing should be perceived and then assimilated after conscious confrontation with information previously acquired is determined in people by the conditions of geographical locality, climate, time, and in general the whole environment in which they have arisen and in which their existence has flowed up to adulthood.
Thus, in the brains of people of different races living in different geographical localities under different conditions, there arise in regard to one and the same thing or idea quite different independent forms, which during the flow of associations evoke in their being a definite sensation giving rise to a definite picturing, and this picturing is expressed by some word or other that serves only for its outer subjective expression.
That is why each word for the same thing or idea almost always acquires for people of different geographical localities and races a quite specific and entirely different so to say "inner content."
(ibid, pp. 15-16)

When there is no pressing need for communication as we face reality with clear awareness, "mentation by form" depends less on language. Verbal formulations can follow but will not precede "mentation by form." In this sense, Zen masters' insistence on "thinking without words" is not entirely absurd. Similarly, when Gurdjieff uses the word "thinking", it may not necessarily mean a verbal activity. Particularly in the context of some inner exercises associated with Gurdjieff, like the one coupled with his last Movement, it is hardly possible to connect the word "thinking" with an activity that involves verbal formulation.

Nevertheless, if we aspire to be a "conscious thinker," we must maintain a stream of "mentation by form" while we are involved with words while thinking, reading, speaking, and writing. More specifically, it is a demand to maintain the spatial awareness of the conceptual universe we are paying attention to, along with the awareness of our current focus and the place of subjectivity.

Movements and Objects: Basic Constituents of Perceived Reality

Many mystics from Heracleitus to Osho saw movement as the essence of reality. Gurdjieff also confirms this view with his emphasize on the Movements and his dynamic vision of the universe as expounded in the Beelzebubs Tales. The following words come from Osho:

You see a river. Does a river really exist, or is it just a movement? If you take the movement out, will there be a river? Once the movement is taken out the river will disappear. It is not that the river is moving; the river is nothing but rivering . . .
Life means living. Life is not a noun, it is a verb. And everything is a verb. Watch and you will be able to see: everything is becoming, nothing is static.
(Osho, The Discipline of Transcendence, Vol. 1, #10)

Our ordinary mind, however, lacks capacity to focus on more than one movements at one time. Linguistically, this limitation is manifested by the fact that only a single verb functions as a hub of the whole sentence or of its each independent logical unit. This verb is called the main verb. If the sentence has two or more verbs, they usually form a hierarchy where the main verb is at the top, or the verbs are juxtaposed in a simplistic way in which they can been seen as forming a unit, or the sentence is divided into independent logical units individually presenting a separate perception. Our language is limited in its ability to present the manners of dynamic relationships among different verbs. A statement of a simple perception usually consists of a single verb and multiple nouns that are connected to the verb:

I love you.
I <-- Love --> You

In all types of statements including this one, the main verb in the sentence is like a hub that holds different types of relationships with nouns within the sentence. Nouns are the objects or concepts that are tentatively assumed to be static. In the mind of the perceiver, they are usually associated with a static image or "form." Even with the given limitation of our perception, a simple analysis of grammatical structures is enough to reveal that movements (verbs) are at the core of our world perception. In the above example, "love" is at the center of the structure of perception, which looks more important than "I" and "you. "

In spite of this, we usually give less attention to movements/verbs than to objects/nouns. This is understandable because movements are less graspable than objects that can be held as mental images. Since you must be familiar with using computers, I take the following example to show a difference between verb-centered perception and noun-centered perception:

MS-DOS command syntax: COPY X Y
Windows: Select X, select COPY, and then select Y.

Readers who have experienced the shift from the process-oriented interface (like MS-DOS) to the object-oriented interface (like Windows) will be able to recall the big difference it caused in our experience of using computers. While the object-oriented interface is closer to our habitual way of perception and therefore more user-friendly, its wide-spread use may further degenerate our ability to focus on movements.

Verb-centered perception allows better appreciation of reality. Verb-centered perception can be very different from noun-centered perception. What would have happened if Descartes gave more attention to verbs than to nouns when he claimed: "I think, therefore I exist"? He must have felt ashamed instead of being proud in finding out that his famous "I" was nothing but a byproduct of his thinking, a false entity that appeared permanent only because of his limited perception. In other words, where are you when you are not thinking?

Case Grammar and the Structure of Our Perception

The case grammar theory is widely used for relating linguistic patterns with universal patterns of perception. The case grammar theory stands on the recognition that major components of our language fall into one of the following three categories: (1) Verbs and their subordinates; (2) Nouns and their subordinates; and (3) Words that define their relationships. This is similar to saying that our vision of reality consists of: (1) Movements; (2) Objects; and (3) Their Relationships.

Semantic structure analysis using the case grammar theory reveals the paramount importance of verbs and movements in the structure of our language and perception. A few examples of semantic structure analysis are given below. An asterisk (*) indicates a connection to the same word given in a line above. Names attached to the arrows show a particular type of relationship between a verb and a noun (or sometimes between nouns). These different types of relationships are called "cases" (or "semantic cases") in linguistics.

I love you.
I <-(experiencer)- Love -(target)->You

I will buy you beautiful flowers tomorrow at the flower shop.
I <-(agent)--- Buy -(recipient)-> You
                        *-(target)-> Flowers <-(attribute)- Beautiful
                        * -(time)-> Tomorrow
                        * -(location)-> Flower shop

I am glad to know that you love me.
I <-(experiencer)- Know -(content)-> [You<-(experiencer)- Love -(target)-> Me]
* <-(state)- Glad

These examples show us the structure of our linguistic universe where verbs are like suns and nouns are like planets. Verbs determine the structure because each verb has its own set of relationships (semantic cases) that it can assign to nouns. Our ordinary perception of love, for example, requires the "experiencer" and "target." The types of relationships that nouns can expect to have with a verb are determined by the verb.

Moreover, some nouns change their characters by the way they relate with a verb. In English, "I" am "I" only when it relates with a verb as an "agent" or "experiencer. " "I" am "Me" when it relates with a verb as a "target," "goal," "instrument," and so on. This seems to indicate that how I am depends on my relationship with movements.

To illustrate the governing role of verbs in a geometrical representation of semantic structure, a verb is depicted as a center from which arrows come out. A noun is a place where each arrow ends up, which symbolically can be taken as a place where our awareness of movements ends.

The above examples are probably enough to show that any sentence can be reduced to a graphical structure of "nodes" (structural components) and "arcs" (arrows). Since semantic structures are close representations of our world perception, they are generally common to all human beings who share similar modalities and limitations of perception. There are only limited numbers of semantic cases that define a relationship between different linguistic components. Grammatical rules specific to each language are nothing but the rules for converting universal structures of perception into verbally-communicable forms.

Looking at the geometrical configuration of semantic structures, it is clear to everyone that verbs and movements deserve more attention if we wish to have a wholesome picture of the perceived reality. When we think, read, write, listen, and speak, however, we fail to realize this because of the linear configuration of verbal formulations.

Exercises in Conscious Thinking and "Mentation by Form"

For those who are interested in actually trying out the method of semantic structure analysis based on the case grammar theory as an exercise in "Mentation by Form," I provide here a list of major semantic cases that can be used for naming arrows.

The following are major semantic cases that define a relationship between a verb and a noun. They all show how forms (nouns) can participate in an action or movement indicated by a verb. The list is exhaustive and the definition of some terms overlap each other.:

1 Agent/Cause
2 Experiencer/Perceiver
3 Target (direct object of an action represented by verb)
4 Recipient/Beneficiary (of the result of an action)
5 Partner/Accompaniment/Instrument/Method
6 Content/Substance/Material
7 Location/Direction/Orientation
8 Time/Duration/Frequency/Order
9 Effect/Result/Goal/Purpose
10 State/Manner/Attitude/Quality/Quantity/Extent/Degree

A verb-to-verb relationship can be variously named as "condition" (if), "synchronicity" (when), "time-after" (after), and so on. Verbs in a sentence (or its each logical unit) are in hierarchical order. An arrow should originate from a verb higher in the hierarchy.

Noun-to-noun and adjective-to-noun relationships can take the form of "attribute", "quality," "quantity," "order," "equation" (=), "logical inclusion," "ownership," and so on.

The tense (past, present, future, etc.) indicated by the modification of a verb can be indicated by an open-ended arrow. The "present" tense arrow is usually omitted.

I bought flowers.
I <-(agent)- buy -(target)-> Flowers
                      * -(past)->

To indicate negation, simply add a similar "negation" arrow to the verb. The style of speech (declarative, imperative, interrogative, etc.) can also be indicated by adding a similar arrow, even though this way of representation may not be quite correct. The "declarative" arrow is usually omitted.

Do you love me?
You <-(experiencer)- Love -(target)-> I
                                    * -(interrogative)->

For more correct representation of the above, it is needed to add a deeper layer of analysis to address the state of the speaker whose presence may not be explicit in the text level:

I <-(agent)- Interrogate -(target)-> You
                           *-(content)->[ You <-(experiencer)- Love -(target)-> I]

Similarly, it may be more correct to interpret such words as "probably," "hopefully," and "arguably" as pertaining to the state of the speaker even though they are grammatically connected with a verb in the sentence.

When we look at our perceived universe, we usually give most of our attention to one part of it. When we say "I love you," our emphasis can be on I, You, or Love. If you are aware of the place of emphasis, you can underline that part or use an additional arrow called "focus."

It is me who saw you yesterday.
I <-----(agent)----- See -(target)-> You
* <-(focus)-              * -(time)-> Yesterday

What we may call "the place of subjectivity" or "empathy" is a logical pair of the above concept of "focus." It shows the position of the speaker within or in relationship to his perceived universe. In other words, it shows a perspective the speaker is identified with. The place of subjectivity is not always identifiable in semantic structure analysis but is an important item to be aware of it if we aspire to be impartial in our thinking. This topic is also important in psychological application of the case-grammar perception model, which is already attempted by some psychologists and therapists. The perceptions formulated as "I am his son" and "He is my father" are objectively equivalent but can be very different from each other subjectively and psychologically. This reversal of vision should be an interesting topic of study in the context of the gestalt therapy and also in relationship to the double-headed arrow model of self-remembering.

The verb "be" is usually analyzed in the following way:

I am a man.
I <-(attribute)- man

She is beautiful.
She <-(attribute)- beautiful.

I am glad.
I <-(state)- glad

This is my pen.
This =(copula)= Pen <-(owner)- I

In the above four examples, the sentences are considered to be dead because their semantic structures do not include the real action of a verb. The verb "be" comes alive only in a sentence like this:

I am.
I <-(result)- Be [my interpretation]
I <-(experiencer)- Be [a common interpretation]
I <-(agent)- Be [a questionable interpretation]

Finally, at the end of this section, you may wish to compare the given list of semantic cases with the following description by Gurdjieff of an exercise for conscious thinking:

It is important to know how not to depend on associations, and therefore begin with the thinking center. We shall exercise the moving center by continuing the same exercises we have done so far. . . Let everyone take some object. Let each of you ask himself questions relating to the object and answer these according to his knowledge and material:
1 Its origin
2 The cause of its origin
3 Its history
4 Its qualities and attributes
5 Objects connected with it and related to it
6 Its use and applications
7 Its results and effects
8 What it explains and proves
9 Its end or its future
10 Your opinion, the cause and motives of this opinion
(Gurdjieff, Views from the Real World, p.106)

It seems significant that Gurdjieff couples this exercise of conscious thinking with the practice of what is now known as the Gurdjieff Movements, which can be seen as a language of forms. This exercise in conscious thinking is an exercise of the second reality-conversion process (Arrow 2 in earlier-presented model) while the practice of the Movements has something to do with the first reality-conversion process (Arrow 1).

Critical Examination of Ouspensky's Arrows

The state of self-remembering is sometimes described as being aware of "subject" and "object" both. Here, linguists are probably more aware than others about the arbitrary nature of what we consider as "subject" and "object." Also arbitrary is the division between our inner world and outer world.

Now let us reexamine the common understanding of self-remembering by applying the methodology that I have introduced in preceding sections. We shall start by reviewing the Ouspensky's well-known description about self-remembering:

I am speaking of the division of attention which is the characteristic feature of self-remembering. I represented it to myself in the following way: When I observe something, my attention is directed towards what I observe - a line with one arrowhead:

I --> the observed phenomenon.

When at the same time, I try to remember myself, my attention is directed both towards the object observed and towards myself. A second arrowhead appears on the line:

I <--> the observed phenomenon.

Having defined this I saw that the problem consisted in directing attention on oneself without weakening or obliterating the attention directed on something else. Moreover this "something else" could as well be within me as outside me.
(Ouspensky, In Search of the Miraculous, Chapter 7)

Before reading further, I would like you to think critically over the above description by Ouspensky and how it makes sense to you. Then I would like you to look at the two arrow-based representations Ouspensky has made and see them in the light of what you have understood so far:

I --> the observed phenomenon
I <--> the observed phenomenon

Let us begin by questioning the reality of our ordinary perception that he represented by an arrow pointing to objects:
(1) It is true in terms of our felt senses that something seems to go out of ourselves when we make an effort to pay attention or something drives us to pay attention.
(2) Scientifically and in effortless moments, it is more correct to say that impressions come to us.
(3) The first arrow of Ouspensky takes only one of the two major types of our self-perception: "I ->You" type of perceiving oneself and "Me <- You" type of perceiving oneself. Ordinarily, we switch between these two modes of perception almost unconsciously.

"I" am "I" if the arrow goes out of it; "I" become "Me" when the arrow points to it. For this reason, it is rather misleading that Ouspensky allowed the same old "I" sit at the left side of the double-headed arrow in the second representation that he associated with self-remembering. Is this an unintended carelessness in description or did he really believe that this same old "I" had to be remembered? Read the following passage carefully because it seems to give us an clue:

"Moreover this 'something else' could as well be within me as outside me"

This statement of Ouspensky seems to reveal both his limitation and contradiction: his limitation consisting in his stubborn clinging to his same old Observing I while turning his attention within him and outside him but never to this same old "I" thereby contradicting his own double-headed arrow model. Ouspensky is as mistaken as Descartes in assuming "I observe, therefore I exist," as long as the source of this observation remains the same old Observing I.

It is not my intention to completely deny the merit of this Observing I; at least it has a superiority over the "I" assumed by Descartes because this Observing I would be able to be an observer to different I's that appear in conjunction with different thoughts. If this Observing I is firmly established at the center in our head of impartial perception, or our real thinking center as a center of our "mentation by form" and the governor of our "mentation by thoughts" and not the producer of our associations, it is indeed something worthy of praise. Still, the Ouspensky's formulation seems to carry the danger of emphasizing the functioning of our head center as it is now, in its state of isolation from other centers, and moreover produce an identification with out mental faculty as it is now.

Most probably, what Ouspensky was attempting in the name of self-remembering was actually an effort of self-observation that should be represented by a single-headed arrow:

I --> something in one's so-called inner world and outer world

The practice of self-observation, if it is centered around our mind as it is, can be harmful rather than beneficial:

"We feel that there may be something wrong in the way we are doing self-observation. Are we wrong, Mr. Gurdjieff?"
"Never you do self-observation, " he said forcefully. "You do mind observation. Mind observation you do. Can even make psychopath."
(Edwin Wolfe, Episodes with Gurdjieff, p. 11)

As I see, the practice of self-observation is good and necessary in the beginning but only because it can bring one to the point of utter despair and sincere acceptance of the impotence of this Observing I, as it is now, in creating a real harmony in oneself in spite of its capacity to see various contradictions and mechanical reactions in oneself and in others. The only mode of control available to it, in its state of isolation from other centers, is to block the activities proceeding in one's general presence, a repressive mode of control often wrongly connected to the idea of "not expressing negative emotions."

Some people, especially intellectual males, do not like to accept the impotence of the Observing I in its present state of isolation. With a lack of this acceptance and with a misguided effort in controlling oneself, the so-called Fourth Way can easily become a way toward more rigidity and polishing of a "Work" personality - the outcome of being unable to eat the dilemma between the Observing I's capacity to see conflicts and its inability to reconcile them.

To follow the double-headed arrow model beyond the point Ouspensky dared, we must pay attention honestly to the state of this Observing I as it is now. When we make an effort of paying attention, where does that attention come from? We may call this source our ordinary mind that has its center of activity in our head. What powers this mind? It is powered and conditioned mostly by our biological needs to pay attention to the outer world in order to avoid dangers and look for food, shelter, and mating partners. In our attempts of so-called self-remembering, it is also powered by our desire to become "something one is not." The same mind can be powered by something higher but it cannot happen as long as we take self-remembering merely as a way for personal development. So the nature of "I" that we reach by tracing back the flow of our ordinary mental attention to its source is most probably our biologically-determined ego.

This process of tracing our mental attention to its source should bring us to the horrifying awareness of our ordinary mind's slavery to our social and biological conditionings. When our mind accepts it, it is no more the same old mind and then it may begin to desire freedom from its habitual way of functioning. Strengthening the power of our mind as it is, however, is surely not the purpose of self-remembering. Moreover, self-remembering should not be understood in terms of our mental attention only.

Using Verb-centered Perception Models

Now let us see how we can use the method that I described earlier to produce a better representation of our self-perception and world-perception, and hopefully a better model of perception peculiar to self-remembering. Let us begin by rewriting the Ouspensky's representation of our ordinary world-perception using the verb-centered approach of the case grammar theory:

I <-(perceiver)- Observe -(target)-> Any object

The placement of the verb "Observe" at the center represents an understanding that our ordinary sense of "I" is always the product of a certain action linguistically represented by a verb. That action can be the action of our mind, which in this case is the act of observation. Here, it is important to notice that observation is only one of innumerable actions that produce a sense of "I" in ourselves:

I <-(agent/experiencer/perceiver)- Any Action [--->Any object]

To experience it more realistically, you may do the following exercise: repeat pronouncing aloud rhythmically any verb followed by the word "I" with an even-tempo music of an appropriate speed. Even though it is against the English grammatical rule, you should have the sense of subjectivity in relationship to the verb you pronounced earlier. In other words, experience the taste of "I" and not "Me." You can start like: observe-I, think-I, read-I, feel-I, love-I, hate-I, sense-I, touch-I, . . .
You may taste a common thread of subjectivity that persists through different senses of "I" that arise in conjunction with different verbs. This taste of subjectivity, which can be different from the sense of Observing I, may indeed have something to do with self-remembering.

In this exercise, by the way, you may hit upon a subject of controversy among the case-grammar theorists: Is the "I" in "I give" similar to the "I" in "I receive"? In terms of reality, the "I" in "I receive" is assuming the target case or receiver case even though grammatically it is assuming the agent case (otherwise one should say "Me receive"). So the felt sense of the "I" in such expressions as "I receive" should be associated with the sense of "Me" rather than "I". This observation also indicates that our sense of subjectivity can sometimes be the product of a delusion.

The Ouspensky's representation of self-remembering may give a wrong idea that the Observing I at the left side of the arrow has an unconditional superiority over other types of "I" that can appear in conjunction with different actions (verbs). It should have some superiority as I mentioned earlier but as long as this observation remains merely mental, it is not much of a superiority as the practice of the Movements will show. The illusion of superiority will grow if one chooses mental observation as a chief method for relating with objects, which linguistically can be seen as an adhesion to a single semantic case in relation to a single verb. Gurdjieff explicitly warned against this type of obsession:

. . . the question of so-called "self-observation". . . the knowledge of which is indeed quite indispensable at the beginning for everyone who is striving to learn the truth, but which, if it becomes the center of gravity for the mentation of man, will, as was long ago established and verified by me, unfailingly lead to just the result which, to my great regret, I observe now in almost every one of you.
(Gurdjieff, Life is real only then, when "I am", p. 96)

The verb "observe" is only one of the verbs that characterize one of the three major modalities of perception mentioned by Gurdjieff:

I <-(perceiver)- Observe -(target)-> Something
I <-(perceiver)- Feel -(target)-> Something
I <-(perceiver)- Sense -(target)-> Something

Even though we use the same word "I" to describe the sense of subjectivity that arises out of these three major modalities of our perception, the mentally-observing-I, feeling-I, and sensing-I are distinct from each other. In reality, for most of us, only the mentally-observing-I and sensing-I are experienced as having some coherence of their own. Since our emotions (as against our true feeling) are the byproducts of conflicts and momentary peace between the mentally-observing-I and sensing-I, they only have temporary centers of their existence in our presence. We have a center of higher feelings in us, but unfortunately in most of us, it is activated only by dreams and fantasies or under the influence of sex. So, the first thing the mentally-observing-I should do after accepting its impotence in its current state of isolation is to look for situations in which it may be able to have a taste of bi-directional communication with the sensing-I, which again can be represented by a double-headed arrow.

Potentially, there are several modalities of self-awareness possible in a triangular relationship among the mentally-observing-I, feeling-I, and sensing-I. Placing oneself in the position of one's mind to observe one's feeling and sensations is only one among several modalities of self-awareness. Thoughts can be sensed and felt, feelings can be related to sensations, sensations can produce feelings, and so on.

In the presence of more than one I's and myriad forms of self-awareness, what is the place of one real I and how its presence experienced? The following section of this essay addresses this question by trying to identify the mechanism that produces in us the varied senses of "I" and "Me."


What is the mechanism that produces in us the sense of "I" or the sense of "Me" in the moment of all types of perception? Let us begin our exploration by accepting the fact that each perception requires a distinction, which is the act of dividing reality. If you cannot distinguish between black and white, you cannot read the characters you are reading. If you cannot divide this sentence into words and phrases, you cannot make sense of it. The basic form of our perception can be represented as follows:

One side | Another side

At any moment, multiple perceptions are happening to us that are dividing the reality in terms of dualities such as near-far, high-low, bright-dark, comfortable-uncomfortable, good-bad, right-wrong, heavy-light, and so on. Among these divisions are the division between our so-called inner world and outer world.

Inner world | Outer world

It is not really us who make this division. Rather, what we consider as ourselves is the result of this division that happens automatically with our inborn faculty of perception. Immediately after this division of reality, whatever side of the division that is experienced as physically, emotionally, or mentally closer, familiar, or beneficial to the perceiver is considered to belong to the inner world. The dividing line between the inner world and outer world is flexible and always tentative. With every ripple in our perception and with every shift in the modality of our perception, a border suddenly disappears and reappears somewhere else.

In English, when we look at the outer world from the inner world, we use the word "I." Here I use the word "You" as a representation of the outer world:

I --> You

The English grammar demands the use of the word "Me" when we look at our inner world from the perspective of the outer world:

Me <-- You

The sense of "I" and the sense of "Me" are shockingly distinct from each other if we can become aware of it. To have its taste, you may wish to do a variation of the earlier-mentioned exercise of verbalization; this time using the combination of "any noun + I" to experience the sense of subjectivity as one stands before the person or object indicated by the noun; and then "any noun + Me" to experience the sense of self-awareness or self-consciousness as one receives the gaze or presence of the person or object indicated by the noun.

Repeating the "I" exercise and "Me" exercise one after another and fully accepting the cognitive and psychological contrast between the two, your breathing may change, a particular sense of humor may arise, and something may be sensed to settle down in your belly. In my opinion, these things that one perceives mostly through sensations are the characteristics of an invisible movement closer to the essence of our being, and therefore should be associated with self-remembering.

With regards breathing, Gurdjieff explicitly says that the contact between the air octave and the octave of impressions is the basic requirement of self-remembering. So particularly if one insists on starting with a mental effort, breathing should be used as an indicator. If one's impartial observation of his inner world, outer world, and their relationships is so total that his breathing changes, then he is probably making a right effort. This usually does not happen because the exertion of our mental attention often inhibits our breathing. This is natural because our ordinary mind is a device designed to negate or compromise perceived dualities. As I understand from what I read, Gurdjieff discouraged mental efforts for self-remembering.

Another criterion should be the sense of humor that should arise in seeing the both sides of dualities. Maybe you know the particular form of laughter that happens when you smoke grass? Henri Micheau, a French writer, has correctly identified it as coming from the awareness of contradictions that are normally ignored unless we wake up or otherwise our stupid secretary ("formatory apparatus" or our conditioned mind) is drugged to sleep.

Returning to the subject of cognitive and psychological duality between "I" and "Me," the impartial awareness and full acceptance of the both sides of duality will produce in us an invisible movement toward the depth of ourselves. When we fail to accept the duality, a psychological movement to the opposite direction takes place, which usually results in clinging to an image of oneself that is independent of the felt senses of "I" and "Me" but only because it has nothing to do with reality.

There is one piece of Gurdjieff Movements titled "I-Me-Am" (or "Me-I-Am") the gestures in which appear to indicate a triangle with "I" and "Me" at sides and "Am" at the top.

 I    ME

The placement of "Am" at the top is appropriate in respect of its real value and the higher perspective it offers. When we look at the phenomenon in terms of physical sensation, however, the triangle has to be put upside down because a movement toward this "Amness" is experienced as "dropping down" or "deepening" while a movement in the opposite direction is experienced as going up into the head.

In reference to the chapter titled "The Outer and Inner World of Man" in the third series of Gurdjieff's writings ("Life is real only then when I am"), a similar triangle can be constructed with "Inner world" and "Outer World" at sides and "Real Inner World" at the top (or bottom in terms of physical sensation). With this understanding, the division of attention that is characteristic of self-remembering can be represented in the following way:

Real Inner World
Inner world <----> Outer world

This simultaneous awareness of the inner world and outer world, if we can accept its intensity, will produce an invisible movement to a deeper layer of our being. Here, we must remember that the dividing line between the inner world and outer world is specific to each perception and therefore changing every moment. Only the fact of duality and the presence of a division remain constant, giving us opportunities to "remember ourselves always and everywhere." Self-remembering understood in this way is a very dynamic act of balancing oneself in ever-changing patterns of dualities. Changes are happening constantly on both sides of the ever-fluctuating dividing line:

Changing reality of inner world | Changing reality of outer world

To be aware of changing reality on both sides of the dividing line, the fixation to the Observing I can be a hindarance. To make this point more tangible, I take the example of the "threshold exercise," which is usually formulated as "remember yourself each time you pass a threshold or doorway." If you are obsessed with the Observing I, you will assume the same internal attitude of observation or establish yourself around the Observing I each time you pass a threshold; then you will miss how your internal state has changed when you received new perceptions as you passed the threshold while something in you has remained the same standing witness to these changes. This something is not usually what people call the Observing I because a certain type of letting-go at the source of attention will be required for appreciating this something.

Glimpses into the nature of our real self must be looked for at the point of meeting or collision between our constantly-changing inner world and outer world. This journey is best started on the physical boundary of our presence. As you sit on your chair now, be attentive to the interface between your hip and chair because it is exactly on such an interface between two worlds where we can find ourselves. After being aware of this interfacing plane, you can either turn your physical attention to your inner world starting from sensing your skin against the chair or turn your physical attention to the outer world through sensing the chair against your skin. Trying to keep the two-way flow of sensations will produce an unusual intensity and change your breathing; or you will notice that inhalation and exhalation are closely connected with this two-way flow.

A similar experience can be produced by trying to be aware of both sides of any type of duality. Standing erect and relaxed, bringing the weight to the right foot produces a particular type of sensation and mood; bringing the weight to the left foot produces a different type of sensation and mood. Shifting the weight rhythmically between right and left while being fully aware of the contrast and then stopping in the exact middle, you may drop down deeper into yourself.

The Gurdjieff Movements provide us with ample opportunities to go deeper into ourselves by being aware of the two sides of dualities and by accepting - even loving - the intensity of this awareness. A majority of people attracted to the Movements, however, are initially more concerned with fighting the dualities than accepting them. With the above-mentioned exercise of shifting the weight, almost every new student goes up into his head instead of settling down deeper into himself due to his unconscious resistance to the perception of dualities. We have two ways of living with dualities, between which the less-chosen one is the way toward deeper realization of ourselves.

Some words from the Gurdjieff Movements that you may now be able to assimilate better with appropriate mixture of air:

I, me, am - I wish to be myself.

I am
father, son
day, night
yesterday, tomorrow

Blue, red, black, yellow
remorse, suffering, effort, hope
yesterday, today, tomorrow, always

Before concluding this essay, I would like to say something about the sentence structures of Gurdjieff's "Beelzebub's Tales to His Grandson," which some people seem to regard grammatically outrageous. As a former linguist, I would like to say that the sentence structures of the Beelzebub's Tales are grammatically impeccable and geometrically of stark beauty, which in themselves are representations of universal laws that he describes in his stories. The use of many invented words is an intelligent choice because the meaning of nouns and significance of concepts can arise and best conveyed only in their various relationships with verbs. Following the complex structures of sentences is in itself is an exercise in "mentation by form," which demands a particular type of attention we are not used to but required nevertheless to see into the true nature of dynamic reality:

So, you put your attention on Beelzebub, another attention than that to which you are accustomed, and you will be able to have the same attention in life.
(Gurdjieff, 1943)

Addition: Transmutation of the Binary into the Quaternary

After reading the first of two valuable comments from Ali (displayed at the bottom of this article), now I feel a need to add another diagram to clarify the point. The diagram connects the content of our discussion with one possible interpretation of Gurdjieff's lecture on symbols, which demand a higher form of "mentation by form"

Conceptual reality

One side of duality <--> Another side of duality

Deeper reality

When looking at this diagram, you should see "deeper reality" closer to the center of an invisible circle and "conceptual reality" further away. Also note that the vertical orientation of this diagram is in terms of one's physical sensation: dropping down into the deeper layer of our being or going up toward the head, which may or may not have a negative connotation.

This four-way diagram can be interpreted in many ways:

(1) Many of our actions happen in pendulum-like movements between two sides of dualities; love and hate, for example.

(2) The typical reaction of our mind in seeing the dualities and the pendulum-like movements between them is to compromise the dualities by ideas, explanations, and a false image of oneself (or the image of what one may become by following "what the Work teaches"). In the diagram, this is an upward movement.

(3) The center in our head of impartial perception, if developed enough, may reach an impartial conclusion about the situation, which in itself is an upward movement. If this conclusion is powerful enough, however, it will urge us to take an action. This urge is experienced as a downward thrust.
Or, it may happen the other way around. The act of opening ourselves to the impartial sensing and total acceptance of the two sides of dualities may produce in us, as a result, an invisible movement downward to a deeper layer of our being. The center in our head of impartial perception may stand witness to this process and gain something from it in terms of real knowledge.

(4) For the sake of our growth, it is desirable that a balance is achieved between the upward movement and downward movement, thus producing another double-headed arrow along the vertical axis. I believe that this is the essence of what Gurdjieff described as the "transmutation of the binary into the quaternary," where there are: plus, minus, conclusion (in our head center), and effect (in our being).

(5) According to Gurdjieff, the above is only the first half of the formula: when the binary has been transformed into the quaternary, "the second part of it speaks for itself and thereby points out the direction of the solution." This is further related to the construction of a pentagram in man where the functioning of five lower centers is harmonized, which further leads to the completion of the Solomon's Seal.

According to my observation, a major proportion of individual and group efforts currently done under the name of the Gurdjieff Work or Fourth Way is going in the direction mentioned in the paragraph (2) above. This is a subjective direction and therefore different groups going in this direction cannot work together or help each other. In contrast, smaller number of groups and individuals moving in the direction mentioned in the paragraph (3) and later, as well as those who became disappointed of the direction mentioned in the paragraph (2), can work together and help each other, that is what I propose to every reader of this article.

Visit Plavan N. Go's Homepage.

Copyright 2003 Plavan N. Go


3 way attention
Hi Plavan and thank you for a great essay.

i thought you may be interested in the idea proposed by rodney collin (ouspensky's student) in The Theory of Celestial Influence p.215.
Collin suggests that as well as being aware of (1)oneself and (2)some external impression, one should also remember a third principle, (3)some higher power. In effect one divides ones attention in two directions whilst remembering that one is immersed in a greater reality (whatever that may mean to each particular individual).

Thank you again


ali, United Kingdom
added 2003-09-02

Buddha may have been the first linquist; Gurdjieff also said that philology is a better way to Truth than philosophy. I welcome your approach to the Truth!

Reijo Elsner,
added 2003-09-02

Re: 3-way attention
I thank Ali for his following remark:
"Collin suggests that as well as being aware of (1) oneself and (2) some external impression, one should also remember a third principle, (3) some higher power."
I have not checked this against Rodney Collin's actual statement, but if he believed that "one should also remember a third principle" by making a certain effort, I am afraid that he was going further away from reality into what he believed as a higher world, which corresponds to general impressions I receive from his book.
I would rather say that impartial awareness of the two sides of duality, as a result, produces in us an invisible movement toward a deeper layer of our being, through which we are awakened to the presence of the third principle.
Please refer to the addition I have made to the main text of my article after reading your comment.

Plavan, Japan
added 2003-09-02

Re: 3-way attention
Hi Pavlan

Thank you again. I believe your formulation to be quite correct and my paraphrasing of Rodney Collin to be rather sloppy, for which I apologise. I include here an OCR extract from the aforementioned book:-----QUOTE-------
"... it may be much more possible to remember oneself and one's surroundings in the presence of something else.
As we have seen, no phenomenon is produced by two forces: every phenomenon and every real result requires three forces. The practice of self-remembering or division of attention is connected with the attempt to produce a certain phenomenon, the birth of consciousness in oneself. And when this begins to happen, attention recognises with relief and joy not two but three factors - one's own organism, the subject of experiment; the situation to which this organism is exposed in the moment; and something permanent which stands on a higher level than both and which alone can resolve the relation between the two."-------ENDQUOTE-------

ali, United Kingdom
added 2003-09-04

Re: 3-way attention
Hi Pavlan

Thank you again. I believe your formulation to be quite correct and my paraphrasing of Rodney Collin to be rather sloppy, for which I apologise. I include here an OCR extract from the aforementioned book:-----QUOTE-------
"... it may be much more possible to remember oneself and one's surroundings in the presence of something else.
As we have seen, no phenomenon is produced by two forces: every phenomenon and every real result requires three forces. The practice of self-remembering or division of attention is connected with the attempt to produce a certain phenomenon, the birth of consciousness in oneself. And when this begins to happen, attention recognises with relief and joy not two but three factors - one's own organism, the subject of experiment; the situation to which this organism is exposed in the moment; and something permanent which stands on a higher level than both and which alone can resolve the relation between the two."-------ENDQUOTE-------

ali, United Kingdom
added 2003-09-04

Transmutation of the binary into the quaternary

Hello, Ali. I find the above comment of yours very valuable again!
With the Rodney Collin's statement you quoted above, I find his definition of "three factors" rather subjective and limited in scope. Still I see fragments of truth in what he writes:

"The practice of self-remembering or division of attention is connected with the attempt to produce a certain phenomenon, the birth of consciousness in oneself."

For clarification and also for connecting this statement with the Four-way Diagram I presented, I would like to point out that this "certain phenomenon" can be born at either a location close to the center of our being or a location farther away from it, or at both.

In this respect, "the birth of consciousness in oneself" with "relief and joy" should be strictly distinguished from the birth of a new thought in oneself. It is good if the both happen simultaneously, then one's knowledge is matched by his being. When this happens, it may be possible to see it as a process that leads us to what Gurdjieff called "transmutation of the binary into the quaternary."

I find that this subject is closely related to the following statement in the Beelzebub's Tales (Chapter 39):

"As regards the third stopinder which was changed in its subjective action and which is fifth in the series and called 'harnel-aoot,' its disharmony came about by itself, simply as a result of the change of the other two stopinders.
"This disharmony of its subjective functioning, resulting from its 'asymmetry' in relation to the whole process of the sacred Heptaparaparshinokh, consists in the following:
"If the completing process of this sacred law flows in conditions in which it is subject to many 'extraneously' caused' vibrations, its functioning produces only external results.
"But if this same process takes place in absolute quiet, in the absence of any extraneously caused vibrations whatever, all the results of the functioning of this stopinder remain within that concentration in which the process is completed, and these results only become perceptible to the outside on direct and immediate contact with it.
"But if during the functioning of this process neither of these two sharply opposite conditions predominates, the results of its action usually divide into the external and the internal."

In reference to the last statement in the quotation above, "external" corresponds to the upward direction in my Four-way Diagram; "internal" to the downward direction closer to the center.

Plavan, Japan
added 2003-09-07

Re: 3-way attention
Dear Pavlan

Thank you for your postings, the clarity and exactitude of which compliment the brief yet 'emotional' language of Collin's writings.

ali, United Kingdom
added 2003-09-08

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