The Brain and the Fear of Motorcycling

The brain is more or less made up of parts that set in motion different human functions. Considering something as complex as the brain, words are only a very rough & ready way of describing how this happens but we might say that the part that deals with moving functions is the oldest part—what Maclean (1952) called the Reptile part—that which helped us to crawl out of the primeval swamp millions of years ago; as we developed over thousands of years a second brain laid itself over the Reptilian one with the linked functions of remembering and feeling—the Limbic part; the latest part to develop is the thin skin of the Neo-cortex which wraps itself over the Limbic part and provides inklings about thinking. Some might say that the Neo-cortex is still in its infancy otherwise human-beings would not be making such a mess of things… However, my poorly developed neo-cortex has been at work in the last five minutes to think all this through; as a feeling of at least provisional satisfaction at my ability to remember a few things comes over me I know that my Limbic system has been engaged; and all the time my Reptilian brain has been coping with the act of typing. In this simple example, things have been more or less in balance, as far as they ever are in my inevitably limited experience.

There is a kind of equivalence between the results of modern brain research and what Gurdjieff called Moving Centre, Thinking Centre and Feeling Centre. To be a fully functioning human-being requires that we use all three Centres, or parts, of our ‘Triune Brain’, in a balanced way. In other words, to gain a proper perspective on ‘things as they are’, we ought to consider what it would be like if we always engaged in thinking, feeling and doing at the same time.

What happens when things get out of balance? Enter the philosopher, or absent-minded professor, buried in thought, displaying little feeling for others and singularly inept at action; closely followed by the passionate carer, so lost in doing things for other people that they forget to think about themselves; accompanied by the body-building athlete whose only interest is in getting the medals, no thought about what it all means, too focussed on winning the race to be bothered with concern for others. Caricatures, no doubt, but providing a template for thinking about others and ourselves. What is it like for us when we are out of balance in our reactions to ‘things as they are’? What has to happen for us to get into balance?

The Fear of Motorcycling and the Brain

As an illustration of both what happens when things get unbalanced and how the Pendulum can be used to correct things, I refer to an experience I had with a man who was very keen on motorcycling but, as a result of a crash, had become fearful of even getting on his bike.

In an artfully vague kind of way I asked him what it was like…

“I’m afraid of losing control again if I get on the bike… so I don’t get on it at all…”

“Let’s put those two responses on the Pendulum…”

As I had already demonstrated, he became a Pendulum, swinging between the two extremes of control and avoidance… As he slowed to the bottom of the pendulum at my suggestion I asked what it was like there.

“Great sadness…”

The pendulum then looked like this:-

So a vicious circle had been set up with each part of the Pendulum characterised by feeling; he was locked in his Emotional Centre, in a state of imbalance.

The question was—how could he break out of the apparently self-sustaining circle?

“How would you like things to be?”

“I’d like to feel in control…”

“So, what’s stopping you?”

“The idea that reckless driving will cause me to skid again in unpredictable circumstances…”

“OK, now swing between ‘feeling of being in control’ and ‘recklessness’…”

The swinging began to slow to the nadir at my prompting…

“What’s at the bottom of the Pendulum swing—the place where a different kind of energy exists—what Gurdjieff calls ‘Third Force’?”

He thought for a moment and then tested his conclusion for completeness.

“I can choose whether to be in control or drive recklessly; I have choice and I need to think about weather conditions…”

To appreciate what was going on for him I had to swing with him with a Pendulum motion of my own. It seemed to me that this made obvious sense as I went with him; the difference was that all three Centres were now engaged:-

This process is not at all obvious when some kind of emotional turmoil prevents us from thinking clearly enough to take thoughtful steps to change the way things are; nor is it obvious when we imagine that thinking will solve everything or that operating a ‘quick fix’ will sort things out. The power of the Pendulum is that sitting on it or working it for yourself proves something in a systemic way; everything is connected to everything else, as Ouspensky says.

In this case the order of events is that the motorbike rider was originally locked in the vicious circle of feelings—single Centre Being, lop-sidedness. He was released from the vicious circle by looking at things from his other two Centres. They helped to make the circle virtuous.

He did get back on his bike.


It would be different for somebody whose focus was, say, derived from the Thinking Centre or the Feeling Centre, or a confusion of the two, a Hamlet figure, perhaps, constantly swinging backwards and forwards between thinking & feeling.

What is lacking here is decision out of Intellectual Centre and action out of Moving Centre. Getting Hamlet to become a Pendulum at an appropriate moment in the play might have got him into:-

But then we would not have had the play which seems to depend entirely on Hamlet’s indecision… And of course none of us is a bit like Hamlet.

Nevertheless, indecisiveness is one outcome of an imbalance in the workings of Centres.


Note: USING THE PENDULUM—ONE is dated 23rd March 2012

3 thoughts on “USING THE PENDULUM—TWO (R8)

  1. From Wikipedia:

    “The Ghost in the Machine is a non-fiction work in philosophical psychology written by Arthur Koestler and published in 1967. The title is a phrase coined by the Oxford philosopher Gilbert Ryle to describe the Cartesian dualist account of the mind/body relationship. Koestler shares with Ryle the view that the mind of a person is not an independent non-material entity, temporarily inhabiting and governing the body. The book contributes to the longstanding debate surrounding the mind-body problem and focussing in particular on René Descartes’s dualism. Koestler’s materialistic account argues that the personal experience of duality arises from what Koestler calls a holon. The notion of a holon is that the mind is at once a whole and a part. A superposition of forces manifests, at each bodily holon, as the outcome of an entire hierarchy of forces—ontogenetic, habitual, linguistic prescriptive, and social science—operating in a continuum of independent feedback and feedforward streams of a body extended to its larger environment. The streams are fed by the life signals of each and every group member, and this fully participative medley is the spirit of life one senses as a ghost; but this spirit is just a simplified output of a complex knowledge set; it is emergent from the complexity of the group’s rules and strategies. He contrasts his basic approach to the mind-body problem with Behaviorism’s basic approach to the problem.[1]
    Following the holon of humanity down to its roots, the work explains man’s tendency towards self-destruction in terms of brain structure, philosophies, and its overarching, cyclical political-historical dynamics, reaching the height of its potential in the nuclear arms arena.
    One of the book’s central concepts is that as the human triune brain has evolved, it has retained and built upon earlier, more primitive brain structures. The head portion of the “ghost in the machine” has, as a consequence of poor, inadequate connections, a rich potential for conflict. The primitive layers can, and may, together, overpower rational logic’s hold. This explains a person’s hate, anger and other such emotional distress.”


  2. A ghost doesn’t think death is real. I suppose that says something about why so much of the work that belongs to the 4th Way is connected to the body or the emotional wounds we carry around. Whenever I’ve used the pendulum exercise(that’s what it is, and a having a strong guide is a good idea) the movement from side to side would evoke and image that for me usually was in service to the feeling centre, and that was a good start. The last sequence of the exercise was more difficult because the image at the bottom of the pendulum was still stuck, and through the help of a seasoned practitioner had to be transformed and lifted into the intellectual centre. When this happened I felt a difference first energetically and later as an I-tag for any future fears. On paper it looks like a simple diagram, in reality it takes a quiet place where honesty and sincerity are allowed to blossom, although some after many years of practice learn to do this on their own.


    1. After working with a guide, it’s really useful to be able to do this for yourself! When I feel bugged, as I sometimes do, for instance, I make a quick little bodily swing which brings me back into awareness of the Pendulum effect, then I wonder what I’m dealing with. By which time ‘being bugged’ has disappeared.


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