The ROOM Series (R11)

I’ve just produced ROOM FIVE—a loose collection of philosophical, literary, anti-capitalist and anarchistic autobiographical ramblings. The series started in 2001 with a book, originally simply called ROOM,  that was supposed to be stand-alone but the book’s format and discipline has become a kind of obsession: ROOM SIX is in production and I have it in mind to begin it with the following which is a record of an interesting & potentially fruitful exchange between the professional philosopher in the village, whose name shall be called Herbert, and myself. It will serve as a signpost…

Herbert: I recall you saying that you would look forward to chatting about Room One. There is much to say about it. And there are a number of ways in which it can be read—several themes run throughout, some are developed some are not.

Myself: The same themes recur in Rooms 2,3,4 & 5 as no doubt they will, unresolved, in Room One Hundred. Some of the undeveloped themes in Room One are given a bit more of an airing in subsequent volumes. My models for this approach: Moby Dick and the writings of the disciples of Gurdjieff, notably Maurice Nicoll and JGBennett who said (and I believe him!), ‘Anything too well and too neatly organised sows the seeds of its own destruction…’ meaning, I take it, that something organised in a neat & tidy fashion implies a full-stop or end to the quest and, since the quest never ends, is therefore doomed or at least counter-productive…

A few years ago, I came to realise that what prevented me from writing a novel was the idea that you had to have a plan, start with Chapter One and then work your way through to the bitter end, sticking rigidly to the plan. Around 1980 with a work colleague who sat opposite me in the staffroom of the college where I ‘worked’ I participated in the writing of an epistolatory novel which came to be called The Gardener of the Universe: the successful conclusion of that project left me with the certain awareness that, as in most of my art-work and musical composition, COLLAGE was my forte. Two other novels followed written on my own but in the same way. Some things were developed, some things were just bunged in for future reference. A line from Whitman intrudes at this moment—something about starting things off but leaving it to my notional successors or readers to make at least provisional closure, should they ever choose to do so. However, though three people do seem to pursue things (and that is sufficient for me!) I have no expectation of ‘followers’. One of my daughters is consuming the series and is always excited to explore the next ROOM and Patrick in America asks after the progress of the current ROOM.

H: I think I need to ask you first what you think of the book…

M: One or two readers seem to have tackled the ‘exercises’ and pick things out for comment and elaboration. When I go back into the book now at your prompting I enjoy the feeling of familiarity with the lurch of ideas & thoughts. I enjoy the fact that I made something of Voyage autour de ma chambre at last in celebration of the old lady, long since dead, who presented the hand-written, beautifully bound, translation to me years ago. The grand mélange still works for me though I do realise that stuff needs expanding—whatever form that might take will go into subsequent volumes but not in any systematic sort of way. Room One is a source book. It helped me to get my house in order for what was laughably called ‘The New Millennium’ as do subsequent volumes. Perhaps it does require some proper familiarity with (and willing acceptance of) 4th Way ideas to be able to relate to it more readily.

H: …is it the polished article…?

M: It will never be polished, if polishing is what it requires in your eyes! It’s as messy as anything of Baron Corvo’s. I suppose that subsequent volumes are likely to represent a kind of polishing, a revisiting of the same ideas at a different level or from a different point of view, yet another attempt to sort stuff out. Of course, as I find when I try to read Bennett’s magnum opus The Dramatic Universe there must come a point when disorganisation alienates. I hope I tread the tightrope successfully. That’s all I hope really.

You did ask about ‘publication’—whether I’d submit Room One for [proper] publication. Whilst it might be nice it forms no part of my intentional stance. It would need far too much polishing, no doubt (and therefore its own destruction) unless it were taken up by Bennett Publications!

H: …does the book succeed in conveying your intentions…?

M: Ah, intentions! Consciousness is defined partly, I take it, by one’s intentional stance towards the world… What the hell were my intentions when I started on Room One? Simply, I think, to go on a journey round my library, scooping up everything I’ve ever thought, read, dreamed of, zig-zagging randomly. I did not succeed in locating the ‘everything’ for Room One—hence its successors…

Here’s an iteration from Room Three:-

We could start moving towards figuring out how to connect things by just noticing their disconnectedness. We could try on for size the rather comforting statement that the normal state of the mind is a substantial chaos: it’s comforting because it enables us to relax into accepting that thoughts come and go in a completely random fashion; unless we deliberately ‘take charge’ and refuse to let it happen, the one thing that can certainly stop the randomness is a focussing on the negative; in a state of day to day chaos, we are perhaps attracted to what is most problematic at the moment—real or imaginary pain, grudges, frustrations, angst—we can choose to let that kind of thing hi-jack the brain. We can even discover in us physical ailments that demonstrate where we’re at in terms of misery and so on—the persistent cough that represents congested angst, the cancer that embodies a life-time of anger. [How prophetic—written three years before my diagnosis…!] This debilitating lurch can easily be replaced by more positive processes. Learning to step deliberately into different ‘I’s will help. The mind can be re-ordered by stepping into different ‘I’s: Anything-for-distraction-I will sink us in tellyland; Daydreaming-I gets us into the contemplation of imaginary situations and if this results in action such as the writing of poetry, pattern-making process, or prose all the better—otherwise it’s a dark cul-de-sac; Mental-games-I is good at all kinds of what Mihalyi Csikszentmihalyi calls ‘flow experiences’—those which establish a much more productive kind of order in the mind. A simple but exciting mental game is to increase one’s purchase on the past and therefore strengthen the concept of self by cataloguing time with all the accuracy one can muster.

The following is from Whitejacket’s Almanac (Hermann Melville)—I suppose it was my intention to make my own almanac or inventory of thought processes I’ve been through during seventy years… I think I probably partly fulfilled my intentions for myself in Room One; the two or three people who follow my progress appear to find my intentions adequately conveyed and are presumably able to tolerate the ambiguities.

Another way of beguiling the tedious hours, is to get a cosy seat somewhere, and fall into as snug a little revery as you can. Or if a seat is not to be had—which is frequently the case—then get a tolerably comfortable stand- up against the bulwarks, and begin to think about home and bread and butter—always inseparably connected to a wanderer—which will very soon bring delicious tears into your eyes; for everyone knows what a luxury is grief, when you can get a private closet to enjoy it in, and no Paul Prys intrude. Several of my shore friends, indeed, when suddenly overwhelmed by some disaster, always make a point of flying to the first oyster-cellar, and shutting themselves up in a box, with nothing but a plate of stewed oysters, some crackers, the castor, and a decanter of old port.
Still another way of killing time in harbour, is to lean over the bulwarks, and speculate upon where, under the sun, you are going to be that day next year, which is a subject full of interest to every living soul; so much so, that there is a particular day of a particular month of the year, which, from my earliest recollections, I have always kept the run of, so that I can even now tell just where I was on that identical day of every year past since I was twelve years old. And, when I am all alone, to run over this almanac in my mind is almost as entertaining as to read your own diary, and far more interesting than to peruse a table of logarithms on a rainy afternoon. I always keep the anniversary of that day with lamb and peas, and a pint of sherry, for it comes in spring. But when it came round in the Neversink, I could get neither lamb, peas, nor sherry.
…does the method you adopt—the same method which it seems is to be employed in subsequent ROOMS—best serve your intentions?

If one of my intentions is to emulate my models (Bennett, Nicoll, Ouspensky) then the simple answer is ‘Yes!’ But I’m not complacent about it. while producing these Rooms I have written one or two things that are more tightly ordered. I do know a different kind of order.

H: …do you consider it a good book that serves as a testimony to your work…

M: A ‘good book’? Goodness knows… Unlike these mechanised abortions I see people scanning on trains, it’s a book you can hold in your hands and turn the pages of.

A ‘testimony to my work’… Is that how you see your own publications? I have no such pretensions. It’s a book, I think, that adequately reveals me as an open-ended thinker, willing to poke around and collect what led to me being just as I am, forging connections, continually seeking. Ouspensky says something like ‘Though seemingly disconnected, everything is in fact connected’… One just has to find the connections. That’s one of my intentions—to make connections, no matter what…

H: Being an old sceptic who taught the philosophy of mind for many years, might I suggest that a good place to start would be your implicit theory of man. It has remnants of a Platonic theory, but it is also it seems to me, a perfectability theory and a salvationist theory.

M: Plato’s system is an invention in the same way as any other ‘theory’ is. An invention serves some purpose or another for a time till it’s superseded. Or stood on its head as Sartre does to Plato, I think: ‘essence precedes existence’ becomes ‘existence precedes essence’ which is for me a more human conclusion as compared with the rather ghost-ridden reverse…

‘Man’ [and woman] is; in isness we invent; everything beyond this moment here and now (blue sky & sunshine on what people choose to call Xmas morning) is an invention—just like the old disused gas mantle we had in the suburban house where I began to invent myself.

Incidentally, the notating of specificity (as in ‘blue sky & sunshine…’ etcetera) is always, during the course of being distracted by the ten thousand things of life, my way of gettiing back to isness, istigkeit, at least for the moment. ‘Isness and distraction’ might be my ‘theory of man’, theory of mind.

One part of me (one of my many ‘I’s) believes in the invention called ‘Perfectability’ and has a sort of yearning for ‘Salvation’—another part of me knows that everything is enveloped in Utter Absurdity and Pointlessness. The Pendulum model (page 73 in Room One), which Nicoll refers to (but in his Commentaries makes very little of in a practical way) is fundamental to my thinking process, such as it is. It’s what happens at the bottom of the pendulum swing that’s important. What’s at the bottom of this particular swing (Perfectability/Salvation – Utter Absurdity/Pointlessness) is something like Keeping At It, Persistence, Making Connections…

Scan0118H: There’s a marked absence of ethics in ROOM ONE and the importance of culture in shaping and expressing the structure of identity…

M: It seems to me that there’s only one ethical principle: One ought never to do anything that will hurt another… (Godwin). Everything follows from that. Bloated capitalists (or people with loads of money) should cease their exploitation; rioters (taking their cue from the bloated capitalists, but rebels without a cause, lacking ideology or meta-narrative) should not burn down homes and shops; Presidents and Ministers of state (and all their snooty millionaire mates) should not be mindlessly condemnatory or punitive… etc round & round … Beyond that ethics, varying from place to place, has no basis in anything.

‘Never to do anything that will hurt another’ includes, for instance, desisting from any action that corners another person into ‘self-justification’ or ‘making accounts’ or ‘the expression of negative thoughts’, three outstanding characteristics of False Personality cherished by human-beings in a state of sleep.

I am a person of my culture and I suppose I talk merely about what I’m trying to understand: the way my culture has structured my identity, the way I have been programmed by ‘life’. Perhaps I need to point this out some time. Room Sixty here I come…

H: The theory of mind loosely mapped out in the book strikes me as heavily influenced by 19th century romanticism…

M: If by this you mean that I suffer from the existential protest embedded in Wordsworth and co, it might well be the case…

H: …there are quite a few important  terms floating about that require definition and or explanation; terms such as essence, personality, magnetic centre…

M: All in good time…  ‘Anything too well organised sows the seeds of its own destruction…’

H: I think there is real confusion in talk of Multiple-I’s, while talking of an over-arching controlling ‘I’.

M: Multiple-I’s is fundamental to 4th Way studies. But it is not worked out in any systematic or practical way by any of the disciples, nor, as far as I can tell, by Gurdjieff himself. Or Nicoll, come to that. One of the relatively ordered/systematic/practical books I wrote while engaged in this most comfortable sprawling business goes into the practical aspects of Multiple-I’s in a big way (The Campaign Against Abstractionism) and I’ve had a great deal of success in teaching the concept to various high-powered consultants and coaches. I’ve had enough experience of working with my robust coaching model to know that it has great potential. Multiple-I’s will persist in appearing in subsequent ROOM books… Of course, you may well say that ‘success in teaching’ is no guarantee truth… And you’d be right.

Various mainstream philosophers seem to have had a similar model to Gurdjieff’s (who is never counted as ‘mainstream’ because his system is not well-organised. Dennett, for instance, I understand has ‘homuncular decomposition’: mind consists of sub-systems, each one a kind of homunculus who performs discrete functions with intentionality. There follow sub-systems of sub-systems on and on down to some simple-minded homunculus who just throws switches in a machine-like way without intentionality.

In ordinary everyday terminology, we say ‘one part of me thinks… but another…’ or ‘wearing my hat as… but wearing my other hat…’ Fleeting evidence for the practical effects of what could be called Multiple-I’s, if not for their reified existence…

I take it that Philosophy is not about believing what is fashionable in the way of current movements, but about discovering what is ‘true’… or ‘what is the case’. Presupposing that there is anything that might amount to being true… Philosophy is part of the endless ‘conversation of humankind’, a narrative depiction of things as they supposedly are, presupposing that we are ever likely to know what that might consist of. Philosophers elaborate their perspectives, gain enthusiastic adherents, die and what they have said becomes part of the corpus called ‘philosophy’ which then in turn becomes a subject studied by the next generation of philosophers who elbaborate things according to their own scheme of reference, devising new perspectives and sometimes shouting at one another… On and on and on…

H: I enjoyed the literary selections, not all of which I am familiar with. I note you mention Frederic Rolfe (but not Hadrian VII). Have you read the marvellous The Quest for Corvo by A.J. Symons?

M: I agree ‘marvellous’! I read it when I was about 22, it having been recommended by a fellow-slave in the British Metal Corporation who paid me a pittance for working for six months of my life… The only redeeming feature of the time was weekly midday organ recitals in St Lawrence Jewry in the City of London. Will have to re-read! Layers and layers about a man whose life was layers and layers. I have had Hadrian 7 in my library for years waiting to be read. For me, this often happens: The Magic Mountain was there for years waiting for the right moment which when it came was mentally over-whelming in an exciting sort of way. Layers and layers says something about my own ‘intellectual life’ if one can call it that.

H: I recall the first time you mentioned multiple ‘I’s during a casual exchange over the phone—at least a year ago, and you mentioned that some Buddhists suggest that there are more than five hundred different ‘I’s.

M: 500 million of them more like. Every turn of the head or shift of energy… They constitute what is habitually called ‘consciousness’. Or at least they manage the nature of varying conscious states; they are ‘tags’ which we can attach to the same should we make that choice.

Like everybody else I unthinkingly use the word ‘Consciousness’ which, closely considered, becomes a meaningless abstraction, a label that gets stuck on the result of the activities of the something-or-others, (neural firings, electro-chemical exchanges) that mobilise what we call thoughts, memories, dreams and so on. Linguistic labels such as ‘consciousness’ result in reification, a process which is seems to me is best avoided.

Whatever-it-is, this ‘awareness’ (of the ticking clock and so on—thus I bring myself for a second or two back into the NOW) is something the brain creates dynamically afresh every second—it is a personal construct different every moment though, unfortunately for objective analysis, as a result of reification, bearing all the hallmarks of similarity—on the contrary, it’s whatever the brain has managed or needed to do during the past half second or so: there’s an infinity of types of conscious moments. Now it’s the hum of the computer and the tapping of the keys and awareness of black night outside. The records of moments we store somewhere or other become what we call ‘memory’—another abstraction or reifying tag. The record of moments experienced impinges on the next moment we arrive at. The ever-increasing record constitutes our systemic programming down all the years.

H: I had thought at the time that you were dismissive of such theories of mind and the underlying metaphysics they formed part of. It came as some surprise therefore, reading ROOM ONE, that you actually believe stuff like that. I don’t know whether Multiple-I’s comes from Gurdjieff or from one or other of his (inventive) disciples Bennett and Ouspensky, but I would be interested to see a coherent, properly worked out theory, and not a story about the counter-intuitive structure of mind that really anyone might have made up.

M: I take the view that everything is made up: ‘…There is no meaning to the world except that which human beings assign to it… The brain is faced every day with the same challenge: how to make sense of the four billion bits of sensory data that bombard it every minute. It doesn’t compile reality one piece at a time the way you assemble a jigsaw puzzle on a table, searching for scattered elements out of a jumble of fragments. The mind works in exactly the opposite way. Once it makes a picture of reality, everything is coaxed into a meaning that fits the picture…’ says Deepak Chopra, who is no doubt one of your purveyors of ‘current nonsense… built upon the collective credulity of the novelty culture…’

H: No I don’t dismiss the likes of Chopra as a matter of course, and the anthropocentric model he describes is quite the received view across the social and biological sciences, and across philosophy too.

M: How we assign meaning to the endless rigmarole of life, which doesn’t provide a picture to go by on the outside of its jigsaw box, depends on our unique individual programming (your ‘importance of culture in shaping and expressing the structure of identity’) : we observe perceptual representations of ‘reality’ which we then reconstruct from the way we represent things in our minds which in turn is conditioned by the language we have at our disposal with which to express it. What you’re looking at right now are miles of meaningless squiggles until you focus your habitual linguistic interpretative prowess when they somehow achieve representational status. The latter facility determines where you sit in the mess of possibilities.

For what it’s worth, as far as I’m concerned, the concept of ‘Multiple-I’s’ comes from Gurdjieff, via Maurice Nicoll, a ‘disciple’. But G probably got the concept from Buddhism and/or Sufism. I have taken the concept and made it into a robust practical, quite unmetaphysical, coaching model. Maybe ‘philosophy’ has nothing to do with such practical activities but I do like the story in Russell’s History about Thales, in order to confound his critics, cornering the market in olive presses one bad year and making a fortune when things picked up the next.

So, we invent the world and tell endless stories about it. Philosophers have surely been in the habit of making up stories about the world and our perception of it for centuries; I think that everything they have said, the whole story, is worthy of contemplation. Is not philosophy about narrative—a fascinating narrative that goes on and on about things as they supposedly are, as though we are driving towards a single certain answer to everything?

Ouspensky had already established himself with New Model of the Universe etc; he was pretty soon kicked out by G who regarded him as lost in intellect.

H: Gurdjieff is full of stories, which though very charming, it seems to me, really don’t add up to very much. His recognition, or more accurately his depiction, of the limitations of our ability to sustain concentration, is worthy enough, but the solutions or indications of curative measures are less worthy.

M: The thing about stories, of course, is that they require unpicking. They are good teaching mechanisms. Three ‘stories’ in Meetings with Remarkable Men leap to mind: the one about the Yezidi boy trapped in his circle which says much about the human condition.

H: Surely the boy trapped in his circle, as a story about the human condition, is just not very interesting or profound. Why tell a story, the ‘significance’ of which some readers might miss? Why fart about with literary pretensions, innuendo, and autobiographical sludge, if there are genuine ideas to be aired? So far, Gurdjieff fails to impress me. He is not, as I believe you suggested, a minor league philosopher; he is not a philosopher. You will not find a mainstream philosophy book with his name in the index. Gurdjieff belongs in that fine old but much neglected discipline, philosophical psychology.

M: I wonder what circle you are trapped in…

Well, anyway, then there’s the account of Gurdjieff’s first awareness of the discipline of ‘self-remembering’ which provides a way to get to a different level of Consciousness—one perhaps of what you call the ‘solutions’ to sustain concentration; after which there’s the profoundly relevant difference between Brother Ahl and Brother Sez.

…These brethren have voluntarily undertaken the obligation of periodically visiting all the monasteries of our order and explaining various aspects of the essence of divinity. Our order has four monasteries, one of them ours, the second in the valley of the Pamir, the third in Tibet and the fourth in India. And so these brethren, Ahl and Sez, constantly travel from one monastery to another and preach there.

They come to us twice a year. Their arrival at our monastery is considered among us a very great event. On the days when either of them is here, the soul of every one of us experiences pure heavenly pleasure and tenderness. The sermons of these two brethren, who are to an almost equal degree holy men and who speak the same truths, have nevertheless a different effect on all our brethren…

When Brother Sez speaks it is indeed like the song of the birds in Paradise; from what he says one is quite, so to say, turned inside out; one becomes as though entranced. His speech purls like a stream and one no longer wishes anything else in life but to listen to the voice of Brother Sez. But Brother Ahl’s speech has almost the opposite effect. He speaks badly and indistinctly, evidently because of his age. No one knows how old he is. Brother Sez is also very old, but he is still a hale old man, whereas in Brother Ahl the weakness of old age is clearly evident.

The stronger the impression made at the moment by the words of Brother Sez, the more this impression evaporates until there ultimately remains in the hearer nothing at all. But in the case of Brother Ahl, although at first what he says makes almost no impression, later, the gist of it takes on definite form, more and more each day, and is instilled as a whole into the heart and remains there forever.

When we became aware of this and began trying to discover why it was so, we came to the unanimous conclusion that the sermons of Brother Sez proceeded only from his mind and therefore acted on our minds, whereas those of Brother Ahl proceeded from his being and acted on our being.

Yes, professor, knowledge and understanding are quite different. Only understanding can lead us to being whereas knowledge is but a passing presence in it.

You may describe these stories as ‘charming’ but they are surely not merely so—to have any impact I suppose a story intended to ‘teach’ would have to be charming in order to pace the listeners into thinking.

You Sez, me Ahl…

H: I think the problem with ‘disciples’ is the loss of critical detachment: a commitment to a theory, particularly if it is personified in a single and mysterious cult-like individual gradually replaces ‘the search for truth’. The search for truth however, especially when followers spell it with a capital T, is very often the first casualty of loyalty and commitment to a particular theory.

M: Of course—it’s called ‘loss of self through identification’. Imagining that I’d find like-minded thinkers, I subscribed to a 4th Way Internet Site for 18 months up to about May 2009 which turned out to be full of people completely lost in uncritical adulation of, identification with, Gurdjieff; they took great delight in telling me I could know nothing about the 4th Way because I’d never been in a group whose leader had been taught by somebody who’d been taught by Gurdjieff. I refrained from indicating my disbelief but learnt a lot about the G dictum which says that one should learn to put up with the unpleasantness of others and also to note well that others are a reflection of our self—how, in contemplating others, we can only project our own ways of being on to other people: ‘Notice what you say about other people and realise that you are talking about yourself…’

There’s no cult-loyalty in me unless you count the considerable practical wisdom I find in Nicoll’s Commentaries. I’ve worked quite hard for 30 years to piece together for myself the elements of the 4th Way and found that the fragments gradually all begin to connect up.

Of course I understand that ‘…loyalty and commitment to a particular theory…’ whatever it might be, any theory at all, philosophical, political, religious will always result in identification and loss of individuality, in self-forgetting. A commitment to the linguistic analysis mode of philosophy is as much an identification as anything else. Loss of self in identification is a key belief in the 4th Way. The solution is always to practise disidentifying in order to achieve at least a modicum of self-remembering, of deliberate return to the presence of the ticking clock and the humming computer and so on.

H: Consider millenarian cults, or those that end with mass suicide, or the numerous whacky conspiracy theories, or the New Age spiritual nutters with their Tarot readings, psychic healing, druidic paganism and so on. Loyalty and commitment are no criteria of truth. Nor is belief. Psychological certainty about p, cannot guarantee that p is the case. It was never true that the Earth was flat.

M: ‘Loyalty and commitment are no criteria of truth. Nor is belief…’ Of course. But, since everything has to go through the sieve labelled ‘belief’ in the end, where does that get us?

H: The ‘sieve of belief’. My point here, psychological certainty, was that the having of a belief does not entail its truth. We hold false beliefs with just as much certainty about their truth, as we do true beliefs.

M: My point entirely…

H: I don’t know whether nonsense is on the increase, or whether it is simply communicated more effectively, but there seems to be rather a lot of it about. And this at a time when science, with its method of conjecture, viability and falsification of theory is presenting such an astonishing, and increasingly inter-theoretic picture of the world.

M: Doubtless the instant ‘communication’ associated with e-gadgetry is responsible for a lot of the trash that is knocking about. One current educational plan is to give kids lessons in how to distinguish fact from fiction and/or conspiracies—but since the conventional ‘wisdom’ of the Power Possessors is to peddle a conspiracy of anti-intellectualism I can’t see those lessons getting very far—either in being mounted or in having an effect. The idea that science is eventually going to provide us with cast-iron certainty about, say, the gap between ‘mental states’ and ‘brain functions’ is as much a bit of mystical nonsense, faith or arbitrary conjecture, as any other New Age fad. Since it rules it out to start with, on the principle of Eliminativism, how will science , for instance account for things labelled ‘subjective’—what you can’t account for is simply eliminated from investigation. For example, all forms of materialism are eliminativist about the soul. When you decide that it doesn’t exist then you don’t think it needs explaining: desires, hopes, longings and so on are dismissed as just ‘folk psychology’… Neuronal process, it seems, for the philosopher, exceptionally pure in body and mind, is a neat and tidy electro-chemical dash for sanitised order.

‘Consciousness’ of what an experience is like is always consciousness of what it is like for the self. Will the neuro-scientist ever discover otherwise? Strikes me that the materialist pins its hopes on something being discovered that will give insight into the physical basis of the human-thing. But what if it discovers that everything is ‘spirit’? What then? Science has ignored subjectivity in favour of what can be measured and tested. But individual subjective ‘Consciousness’ is a very slippery a customer for it. How will it ever discover the basis of what it chooses to ignore?

Any belief contrary to one’s own seems unbelievable nonsense, fantastic even, simply because one’s ‘consciousness’ has not been shaped by it, which is not to say anything about the shape itself. Obviously, without doubt, some kind of reality check is needed to rule out the belief in flat earthness etc.

H: Much of the current nonsense it seems to me is built upon the collective credulity of the novelty culture, and in particular of the materially disenfranchised and the alienated needy, intent upon a quick solution and a spiritual home. I suppose it will always be the case that there will be quacks, pretentious pontiffs of their own faiths and those in pursuit of power over the gullible, who will find a niche where reason is not welcome.

M: No problem except to say, of course, that I do not find my own beliefs amongst the ‘current nonsense’. As Professor Joad used to say, it all depends what you mean by… ‘reason’, for instance.

H: I enjoyed our brief natter on things theoretical. I think we have much in common, you and I, and it is a pity we did not meet up years ago. Old bods in decline are pitiful in that they have become mere echoes of more rigorous dead selves, or have lost their intellectual roots entirely and are in metaphysical free-fall towards the chaos of final moments.

M: Old bod I may be but I do not find myself in ‘metaphysical free-fall’ and not really much in decline at all! I never was rigorous except in being rigorously unrigorous. In this connection, see Room Three, pages 72 – 78.

And then…

H: I think that what you said about Dennett’s ‘homuncular decomposition’, the mind consisting of sub-systems, each one a kind of homunculus who performs discrete functions with intentionality with sub-systems of sub-systems on and on down to some simple-minded homunculus who just throws switches in a machine-like way without intentionality, far from clarifying matters, just drops you deeper into problems and does nothing to rectify or even address the logical contradiction in the very notion of Multiple-I’s. Dennett will not bail you out. In fact, he would probably be in the first crush of philosophers of mind queueing up to debunk such a theory. I suspect that will cheer you up immediately.

M: I’m not looking to Dennett to ‘bail me out’.  Sometime or another, writing about intentionality, he describes human-beings as having

•    a physical stance—appreciation of the way things work
•    a design stance—understanding the function of things
•    an intentional stance—beliefs, desires & so on.

Which ‘stance’ to adopt depends on context. ‘We regard ourselves as intentional systems because that is the most practical way of dealing with ourselves and each other, of explaining and predicting our behaviour. There is nothing more to it than that…’ Intentionality, it seems, is a useful instrument or tool for understanding behaviour but it’s not descriptive of anything that exists independently of our purposes & interests.

About homuncular decomposition, he does seem to suggest that it is useful to regard minds as consisting of a number of sub-systems each of which performs discrete functions with intentionality. Then there are sub-systems of sub-systems and so on down to simple-minded homunculi who simply throw switches in a machine-like way without intentionality. A machine has no intelligence & therefore no intentionality other than what we project into it.

It’s at least arguable that ‘stances’ could be called, at least pro tem, something like an I-system. I’m not saying that’s what Dennett is saying. ‘Stances’, ‘states’, ‘I’s—just ways of addressing what goes on in the brain/body system. It just seemed that when he was writing about stances he might, in my terms, just as well have been discussing Multiple-I’s. That’s all. I don’t need a bail-out but I do find it interesting when psychologists and philosophers seem to be talking about the same thing choose to use their own nomenclature without cross-referencing.

H: Homunculus decomposition. There seems to be some confusion here with Dennett’s views. Elements, or at least implications of a homunculus model are to be found in Locke. Classically the model arose from problems in perceptual knowledge, notably in realist theories where secondary qualities required some inner verifying process. Hence, the little man who sat inside the head checking the veracity of sense impressions. The model, in all its wonderfully crude simplicity, is standardly presented to first year undergraduates as a fine example of a solution that replicates the problem—an infinite regress that does not explain anything at all: a regress of homunculi each at the shoulder of homunculus in front, passing judgement on its findings but being judged in exactly the same way by the homunculus behind. Dennett himself in his first book makes just this point.

M: I wouldn’t ever claim to be anything other than a first year undergraduate…

H: However, computational theories of mind which grew out of Artificial Intelligence (and there is a parallel to some extent in the rather different ‘bottom up’ biological theories) took up the idea of functional homunculi components. Behavioural mindedness (and ultimately consciousness) could be replicated by a silicon based computer, that proceeded from the simplest one job components, through higher order layers of increasingly multitask components entirely dependent on their simpler lower level brothers, to the final collective state of belief acquisition. An analogy close to your home might be a motorbike. An inanimate heap of components, tyres, brake cable, spark plugs etc, completely lacking in autonomous movement, but when assembled in precisely the right relations to each other, are collectively capable of speed. There is no ‘inner spirit’ that drives a motorbike, it’s mundane but clever engineering. (Though who knows, maybe, somewhere in some forgotten corner of the Nevada Dessert, the inbred remnants of 60’s acid head bikers pray to the dead machines of their dead forefathers for a magical sign of inner life, while all along they had lost the notion of petrol). But no single biological or AI silicon component has the status of a self conscious ‘I’, any more than a break cable can claim it’s a motorbike.

Dennett, though critical of AI models nevertheless picks up the idea of functional reductivity from complex whole to increasingly simple parts, to produce an argument attempting to show that classical homunculus models of explanation could avoid the infinite regress problem. It is an example of logical dexterity rather than an example of a multi-I theory.

M: ‘Right you are if you think so…’ (Pirandello)

Maybe this is the ‘stance’ thing I referred to earlier? Dennett’s ‘logical dexterity’ is a ‘stance’, one of many it’s possible to adopt? What Dennett’s referring to is certainly not an example of Multiple-I theory but it seems akin to it; it might map across. Anyway, for me, AI is a dead duck. Intelligence, however one defines it, is a throbbing, living thing. Whilst, in a manner of speaking, I ‘love’ my motorbike it was too bloody thick to stop me falling off it last year.

H: Clearly, any philosopher such as Dennett, who is committed to a biological explanation of consciousness—that is, a materialist theory of mind, and not some Cartesian immaterial soul stuff, has to indicate and explain the intricate material structures that result in consciousness, even when such explanations do not square with our latent dualist preferences. Dennett’s ideas and models of explanation are highly controversial of course, and he is by no means a spokesman for philosophers who specialise in mind.

I have to say that there is a logical, semantic and ontological difference between your (or Gurdjieff’s) notion of Multiple-I’s and the complex of simple and singular biological components that are structured into the working brain. You treat ‘I’ as an entity distinct from its components, and then fragment it, reifying each fragment by equating or postulating an ‘I’ for every conscious function or point of view. It looks like a complete mess and generates more problems than solutions. For example, might it not imply the qualitative problem that those who suffer from any form of mental impairment that limits their emotional or conceptual capacity, have less ‘I’s than those who have a well-oiled brain?

M: For me, the ‘mess’ is what is there until one begins to notice that a single unified ‘I’ is not at all useful for thinking about things. Take the statement that might be made by somebody who attends a Change Management course (a misguided individual you might say…): ‘I want to change myself… I want to change the way I behave…’ You, Herbert, might not wish to change anything in your behaviour but the thing is that a single unified ‘I’ will never be able to change. Far from being distinct from its components the imagined single unified ‘I’ is well and truly locked into a behavioural system complete with a set of habits from which it cannot extract itself by itself. The question I would always ask of anybody who does express a desire for change is ‘Which ‘I’, which part of you, wants to make a change and, more importantly, what will the other parts of you (your other ‘I’s) have to say about that?’ The example I often use is of a person who makes a New Year resolution; it never works out because the ‘I’ that makes the resolution does not, as it were, consult the ‘I’s that run the offending behaviour; the ‘I’ that might be responsible for carrying out the resolution has not acquired the ‘right’ strategies. The ‘I’ that might have made sure that the resolution became effective doesn’t tsand a chance. And so there is inside you a mess of unexamined stresses and indecisions.

It’s not myself with this Multiple-I hangup that does the fragmenting: we are already fragments, bits and pieces of being, but we don’t recognise it, imagining that we are fully realised single unified ‘I’s. One has only to do an experiential check to understand our fragmentariness.

‘I’ to the nth is not a thing. It’s just a way of marking a fragment of behaviour.

H: I think all philosophers would throw that idea out …

M: So much for philosophers… But what about Fichte, William James, GHMead?

H: …particularly where an impaired individual correctly used the word ‘I’ to denote himself.

M: No individual uses the word ‘I’ correctly when they imagine that it refers to a single unified something or other—a ‘me’ whole and complete even if ‘impaired’ in some other way.

I think you impute to me a belief I do not hold and then tell me that I am wrong to hold it.

H: You inherit a numerical problem (along with the Buddhists) to identify, enumerate, and explain the function of so many ‘I’s. You need to explain the point of your model and why consciousness as Gurdjieffians see it is so set against the interests of man.

M: Practically, it’s quite easy to extract from an individual the ‘I’s that come up in relation to a particular issue, to get them first to acknowledge what might be relevant and then discover for themselves what other parts of their being might also figure, eventually to uncover an ‘I’ that might be considerably more resourceful in given circumstances. There’s absolutely no need to enumerate all 555 million ‘I’s in one go—that way would certainly lead to ‘mess’… From practical experience, there’s always the likelihood of other, previously hidden, ‘I’s jumping up and down for recognition and acknowledgement. Here I am of course simply using an anthropomorphic mode to which I don’t really subscribe: it’s just a story.

H: Might it not be another version of original sin?

M: I don’t at all see how. Not having had a catholic upbringing, as you have, I find it impossible to recognise the concept.

H: The crux of the difficulty seems to me to be that the theory has no explanatory value whatsoever outside of the story it forms part of.

M: Lost in our stories, the extreme difficulty is to imagine that we are a composite whole; that when I say ‘I’ I’m indicating a belief that the whole of my being can be deemed to go along with whatever I say; this explains why, when one part of us wishes to do things one way, we are confused when another part of us wants something quite other. ‘On the other hand…’ ‘Wearing a different hat…’ ‘I was beside myself with rage…’ cues for wondering what the one hand is thinking, what the other hats conceal, what the ‘myself’ is feeling.

H: You have lots of ‘I’s connected for the necessity of personal continuity by an over-arching ‘I’ which is no different from what philosophers and non-philosophers mean by ‘I’.

M: Quite so! We have lots of ‘I’s—but in normal circumstances they exist in a personal discontinuity. The Over-arching-I is what I call Meta-I—an ‘I’ that can stand outside all the other ‘I’s and shuffle them into some kind of order. Meta-I is quite a different animal from all the other ‘I’s; not at the top of a hierarchy but capable of standing on the other side of the room to contemplate ‘I’s that manifest themselves elsewhere. That’s not at all what ‘philosophers and non-philosophers mean by ‘I’…’ I’d suggest for the moment that they mean single Unified-I—the ‘I’ that ‘I’ might use when ‘I’ am not being scrupulously precise in depicting what ‘I’ mean by the practical effect of thinking in Multiple-I terms.

H: You have to show how your over-arching ‘I’ differs from the ‘I’ of ordinary language and understanding. It seems to me that this needless multiplication of entities doesn’t explain anything at all, (worse than explanatory homunculi, in fact) but just forms part of a metaphysical theory of mind that equates such ideas as ‘reality’ and ‘truth’ with a theory-dependent notion of higher or true consciousness. It might easily be regarded by some philosophers as a bit of a 19th century semi-occult Platonic model.

M: That’s a way of seeing it, certainly, if you choose to impose a set of ideal Forms on what are purely functional counters. Ordinary, everyday, unified-I (what you call ‘the ‘I’ of ordinary language’) is in fact a Platonic idealised entity, an abstraction, an aspirational construction which gets lost in events through being identified with the 10,000 things during the course of a day. This leads to self-forgetting. Meta-I can be brought into play by a deliberate act of self-remembering—‘this is me looking at things from a distance’ or even suddenly focussing on the ticking of the clock and the hum of the computer; it can be made capable of standing outside oneself to inspect all the other ‘I’s from a distance. Nothing to do with Plato; not an idealised Form of an ‘I’—far from it.

H: There are ways out of these problems of course. Perhaps the simplest is to junk reified ‘I’s completely, and just refer to states and their capacities. We already possess a rich descriptive, evocative, and empathetic language to convey states of being, states of consciousness; why try to invent another?

M: Philosophers and psychologists constantly invent their own nomenclature. In this case, ‘I’ is a way of tagging action in contrast to ‘state’ which is simply a wishy-washy conglomerate abstraction. Within one state of being there’s almost sure to be many ‘I’s for a start. How does one establish the precise nature of a state, wishy-washy thing that it is? Then there’s the question—How to effect a move from one state to another? Impossible without deconstructing the ‘state’ into its component parts.

For example, just consider the state of ‘being beside oneself with rage’: there’s an ‘I’ that gets quite a kick out of being in a rage—Raging-I feels quite at home in familiar territory; but Feeling-ashamed-of-itself-I has a sense that the state of rage really should be brought to an end; Making-an-end-of-rage-I is stifled when Unified-I says it’s angry; Responding-to-further-anger-stimuli-I keeps things on the boil; Leave-me-to-it-I shouts louder; Listening-to-oneself-I is impotent to do anything; Feeling-a-fool-I leaves a nasty taste for the rest of the day. And so on. A single ‘state’ is a compound of so many conflicting ‘I’s. ‘I’s are simply tags for bits of behaviour that would otherwise collapse hopelessly into one another. In this case one could ask: “What would your Creative-I do to get out of this fix?” or something of that sort. State-busting-I might take a hand. Happy-being-in-a-rage-I would say, “Get knotted!” or something of the sort.

That’s why it’s so inadequate to deal in ‘states’.

H: Another thing worth junking is that dictum of Bennett’s, something about the best laid plans going wrong—something like that. That simply justifies the second rate. If you are writing a book intended for a readership, strive for perfection. I am again aware that this is a bloody long email. I have lots of questions to raise but I’ll shelve them.

M: The Bennett dictum has nothing to do with ‘best laid plans’—that’s a complete misinterpretation, if I might say so; nor does it have to do with justifying the second rate; it records that ‘anything too neatly organised sows the seeds of its own destruction’ on the basis that a theory that’s too watertight precludes other possibilities, is not flexible enough to accommodate whatever comes up next; it leads to a state of mental smugness. The search for Perfection, for instance, is likely to end up a gum tree because it aims to sort everything out once and forever; all one can hope for is a set of provisional hypotheses based on a gradual approximation to some kind of actuality, as Bennett also suggests.

A person stuck in the abstraction ‘Perfection’ will find the end in mind impossible to realise because nothing can be perfect. I wonder, sotto voce, if this is what’s happened to your own elaborate plans to move out of your untidy bachelor hovel into a thatched idyll by the seaside complete with housewife.

There may be Perfection in the Platonic sphere and one who chases it is surely a Platonist but there is no such thing as perfection where I’m standing. Also I have to say that in my first year undergraduate construction of ‘philosophy’ what it certainly doesn’t do is to ‘junk’ anything; rather it seeks some kind of ‘wisdom’ of which there might well be many definitions both practical and airy-fairy.

A book I’ll maybe write sometime about the abstraction ‘consciousness’ will be a free-wheeling ramble around a set of possibilities, an essaie in the original sense of the word—taking a stab at something which seems to me to be all one can hope for in this vale of tears—rather than striving for Perfection!.

Our notions of ‘philosophy’ may well be completely at variance. Being only of first year undergraduate status my view is probably pretty impoverished.

M: I came across this just yesterday in John Middleton Murry’s Heaven and Earth where he’s writing about Montaigne:-

He had discovered a profound philosophy, and in his book we watch him taking complete possession of it, or it of him. As his book grows so does he, degree by degree, trait by trait, he comes under the lucid scrutiny of his own increasing awareness, What is happening he knows well, far better than most of those who have sought to expound his philosophy. The philosophy of a man who understands by the word philosophy the seeking of wisdom is always elusive to those for whom the word means a systematic doctrine. They look down upon Montaigne as an amateur; they do not notice that he is smiling at them as professionals. It seems to them that he cannot be really serious when he says: — ‘What is my life really like? I only get hold of it after it’s been exploited and used: I want the essential me—philosopher, unpremeditated, not just guessed at….’ He must be taking the name of philosopher in vain.

But not at all. He is serious, while he smiles; he is serious, because he smiles. He is establishing… a solid and unsuspected claim to have climbed to the very pinnacle of philosophy, to have become a man so imbued and pervaded with awareness that he can put reason in its own subordinate place without having to invoke the aid of faith, if by faith is meant something different in nature from experience. He is become a man, who knows he is only a man, and is content; because the knowledge is of such a kind that it fills him with happiness. And that, for Montaigne, is the end of all philosophy, if philosophy would but know it.

Far be it for me to compare myself with Montaigne (whom I find delightful) but this passage got inside me and rang bells which is a common experience when I’m reading—when I find something ringing bells I wonder what bells it rings. Here, the bells rang out in relation to what you wrote—something about my amateurism up against your professionalism, I suppose.

H: The quote from Montaigne, rather lyrical, rather loose, says much more about the vanity of Murry than it does the sceptical Montaigne. The language is self-indulgent, emotive, not descriptive, and (not even between the lines) it peddles a distorted view of philosophy, and worse, an inflated view of the writer, and his ability to see in Montaigne, his fellow traveller, the true nature of wisdom. Perhaps Murry is a failed philosopher? Or at the very least a failed historian. The social and religious climate in France, the tension between Catholicism and Protestantism, and Montaigne’s view that faith and not reason ( against a still strongly influential climate of Aristotelianism in theology) should form the basis of religion, brought him into conflict with many theologians, anti-humanist philosophers, and those who jostled for power in the church. Philosophy at the time, as much perhaps as theology, was awash with division. The rise of humanism was challenging the authority of the church and the church’s thousand year influence on both the content and methods of philosophy. The Schoolmen, with their extraordinary skills in logical argument and analysis and their conviction that faith has a rational basis (Aquinas—virtuous faith is an examined faith; it is a hard won faith, but non-virtuous faith or blind faith, is empty) still had great influence, and even Descartes, the ‘father of modern philosophy’ (born three or four years after Montaigne’s death) still shows the extraordinary reach of the Jesuits and their methods of sound reasoning. In contemporary philosophy of course, Montaigne is highly regarded as a key thinker in the rise of humanism, an exemplary essayist, and a philosopher who always merits a mention in any history of European philosophy.

So I think, on the back of that rather nauseating quote from Murry, that the implied inference that Montaigne is on the side of the free thinking amateurs which includes yourself and I suspect Gurdjieff, and is in opposition to the blue meany narrow minded professional philosophers who construct ‘systematic doctrines’ does not really work. It is, as any philosopher would say, an over simplification, and a propaganda stunt. I am always interested to hear, when this old definition of philosophy, ‘ the love or pursuit of wisdom’ is wheeled out, what those who who define it so think it establishes. Not much I think. The first, and often knockout question is; what is, or what is meant by ‘wisdom’? There are a great many answers to such a question, and their selection will often depend upon the autobiographical details of the individual (since most dabblers regard themselves as wise). I think it was Ayer, a prize fighter among philosophers, who first suggested that philosophy ought not to be linked in definition to wisdom in this way because, well, as you might expect, few philosophers can agree on what the nature of wisdom consists of, and further, most people who have the cheek to regard themselves as wise are not philosophers.

M: Poor old Murry…

H: It is worth pointing out in passing, that there are very few systematic doctrines in philosophy any more; they are certainly part of the history of the subject, and are taught as just that, but we no longer have the likes of Kant or Hegel or Aristotle. But systematic doctrines are still to be found in theology and fringe ‘philosophies’. Philosophy these days, apart from its (usually) systematic attempts to explain the nature of things in the repertoire and range of the discipline, is about analysis, and the clarification of or debunking and  falsification of spurious or mistaken doctrines. Hmmm. Consciousness Level 3, The Fourth Way. Looks a bit like the scaffold of Doctrine.

Your next bit—to do with 500 million ‘I’s—is a wonderful bit of nonsense: just work out how long an individual would have to live, at say a new ‘I’ every five seconds to be able to test that claim leaving aside the actual mechanics of the calculation. Honestly, what rubbish! Are you indicating the distinction between the thing in itself (what Kant called the numinous, and which cannot be directly experienced) and our phenomenological representation of the thing? The old problem of appearance and reality has a very long history and some quite ingenious attempts to solve, and dissolve the problem. I quite like Berkeley’s ‘solution’, which would appeal to many Buddhists, but I’m not sure a Buddhist with the baggage of 500 million ‘I’s would appeal to Berkeley. Like Berkeley, a radical reductivist, looking for simplicity and elegance in explanation, I cannot see the point in postulating a whole cluster of ‘I’s if nothing is explained by it.

M: Well, yes, that would be pointless. In my Ahlish way I think I may have been trying to point out the practical implications.

H: My natural scepticism is always suspicious of anything that looks like Doctrine, be it systematic and deductive or confused and illogical. Much of what you say is, well, obvious really. But some not so. What for example do you mean when you say there is an infinity of types of conscious moments? This is either a platitude, or a substantial claim. Do you mean a) there is an infinity of types of consciousness, or b) an infinity of moments. b) is clearly false since we all die, and the period between birth and death is finite. If you mean a) then it just seems to me to be meaningless unless you can flesh it out, bring it down to earth. Otherwise there really is no point in pursuing this.

M: There is probably no point in pursuing this, anyway. There’s a whole lifetime of difference. However, here I observe that I used the word ‘infinity’ in a disgracefully loose kind of way, enabling you to make the relatively trite comment that life is finite. Conscious moments, of which there is a rather large multitude during the course of a single finite life, can be depicted in a variety of ways: a moment can be made up of what Gurdjieff calls ‘pure impressions’ a notion which needs to be worked on; there can be moments when one focusses on intellectual apprehension; most moments come with some sort of emotional colouring (Finesmith 1959: psychogalvanic skin responses to the speaking of nonsense syllables); some moments are mind-created or imaginative, the result of Internal Considering; there are moments of fantasy; memorialising moments; asleep moments; awake moments; and so on.

H: I do wonder a little at your preference for including quoted passages. Is it to bring clarity? (Incidentally, this is the main reason why Room One is unpublishable: there are roughly 120 pages of quoted passages, some of them way too long. That is about half the book length. No publisher would touch that. Even Colin Wilson, an enthusiast of the quotes method, used to get beaten up by his editors and was constantly forced to strip out the unnecessary, and the over-long).

Russell has some great stories, and perhaps he would disagree, as would Chomsky, or Sartre, or even Mary Warnock with the view that philosophy has or maybe has nothing to do with practical activities. Possibly political philosophy, but certainly ethics, is the most important and life altering subject there is.

M: The Russell story about Thales was intended to emphasise the practical nature of philosophy…

H: Eliminativism (or eliminative materialism to give it its full title) is actually quite a deep and radically challenging theory and I’m surprised you are so dismissive of it. Maybe you’re not overly familiar with it, but it is certainly not the flat one dimensional theory you seem to indicate. Materialists do not deny the existence of consciousness and its wide ranging features—beliefs, attitudes, hopes, musings etc. Materialists live in exactly the same world as spiritualists, and experience the same things. They simply (as a starting point) disagree about the ways in which experience is classified. They have a different, but nascent set of explanations for the ways in which we make sense of and account for the nature and structure of what it is to be a subjective entity in an objective world. The narrative of self-hood they want to argue, is essentially social in origin. That is, the story of who we are, and how we are taught to think not only of ourselves, but of everything around us, is culturally inherited (‘programmed’ is too strong a word) from those who turn us into social beings. What binds people and communities together is shared beliefs. The language we are given, which is the very stuff of thought, not only shapes experience, but provides a particular concept of self. A crude analogy might be the story of the heart. There are echoes in our language of the ways in which the heart was supposed to influence not just our beliefs but our actions too. (Kind hearted, big hearted, hard hearted, heartless, heart felt, half hearted, heart and soul, heart broken etc.) The conceptual scheme surrounding ‘heart’ is wonderfully intricate and woven into our understanding of self identity and what it means to be human, ans is perhaps as old as language itself. The explanation for (heartfelt) action is reified when it gains currency in the cultural norms that surround it.  But it is wrong; it misrepresents us, it misidentifies us, and it offers a parallel story of the intellectual and emotional life of the individual. We can certainly make sense of ourselves and the world with this view of the heart’s influence, but then we can just as easily make sense of the same by linking it to God’s will, or fate, or any other all enveloping causal metaphysic. But such a view is wrong, and it is the biological sciences that have penetrated the fog of ‘folk psychology’ more than anything else. Eliminativists want to argue, and it certainly is an iffy argument, that just as we have eliminated ‘demonic possession’, heart-strings, (possibly free will) and other conceptual ghosts from the explanation of human action, so too will we eventually eliminate a wide range of inner psychic referents as explanations also. Dreams, desires, disappointments etc are not objects but processes. Its an ongoing story, the slow building of eliminativism, but quite a gripping philosophical detective story and I would love to see just what shape eliminative materialism is in one hundred years from now.

‘The idea that science is eventually going to provide us with cast iron certainty……….’ I agree, nonsense. But nonsense because science does not deal in cast iron certainties. Science deals in empirically grounded explanation, but it is driven by sceptical curiosity. Science is simply the desire to find out why or how something is what it is or does what it does. No more then that, and it is carried out by people like you and I. The popular view of science, as some monstrous machine intent upon leaching the vital juices from life, is put about by those who do not understand science. As I used to tell my students during the first week of a course, just as there is nothing on this planet that cannot form the subject of a philosophical enquiry, so too there is nothing that cannot form the subject of a scientific enquiry. There is no a priori reason that precludes consciousness (and neuroscientists too introspect just like everyone else) from being the subject of scientific enquiry. We have found out more about the brain and its conscious states these past thirty years than the rest of human history put together. But I agree, there are formidable conceptual as well as empirical obstacles in the quest for consciousness. ( I always used to quiz theologians, who professed God’s omniscience, an omniscience that could see into and occupy my mind and its thoughts—how was it that God could experience my doubts, my confusion, my ignorance, while retaining omniscience, and his own discrete identity.) It is not only science that shares this problem, but every person on this planet. It is the ontological category problem  Question: if consciousness is so immune to scientific enquiry and eventual explanation, what is it you are doing when you tell other people about levels of consciousness which may be obtained through such and such exercises? What do you claim to be able to do, to describe, that science cannot? Where do you draw the line between the limitations of science, and an account of mind (500,000,000 + ‘I’s) which is true of everyone—scientists included? These are proper and not rhetorical questions that perhaps you should consider.

I am afraid I do not look up to anyone. I do not follow anyone, and short of a few philosophers and scientists, I do not recognise anyone as an authority. A sceptical loner. (Curiously, since doing some course a decade or so ago, my lady has maintained that I suffer from a mild form of asbergers. I tell her this is nonsense, that I’m cerebral where she is not, (a decade ago my IQ was 159 but now it’s about 90—real age-related deterioration going on) and that she misidentifies critical detachment as emotionless disconnection. She says I do not seem to recognise the taboos and conventions that protect other people’s privacy and dignity and self image. In other words, not very good at empathy. I think she’s wrong. But then I would say that wouldn’t I?

M: Regarding the Quotation Habit, I happen to have found it interesting down the years to use quotations as a stimulus to thinking about the continuing conversation of humanunkind. I once wrote an essay while in Teacher Training College on Moby Dick that consisted entirely of quotations. I did this after reflecting on something Hans Keller on the 3rd Programme advocated—viz musical criticism solely by extracts of music. The listener had to have an ear agile enough to recognise repetition and variation of themes etc. This was before the time when announcers were able to think of nothing more illuminating to talk about than the colour of a conductor’s socks.

Along with Charles Fort (the original man 1930-ish not the crap popularisers of today) it strikes me that anything that human beings have said or thought or experienced is worthy of serious human consideration.

Otherwise I’m not into self-justification…

Except to say that it matters not a scrap to me that Room One has 120 pages of quotations in it —in fact part of the point of the book as explained therein was to make a personal expedition into books in my library which played some part in forming who & what I imagine I am. As I’ve said before I have no intention to get any of the ROOM series (or anything else come to that, novels, poems, haiku) ‘properly’ published—it is enough for me that far-flung friends & close relations read them & find them, let’s say, interesting. Apart from that it’s just, for what it’s worth, setting my house in order.

I’m currently reading Antonio Damasio’s Descartes Error. Getting to page 87 I came across this:-

In the discussion ahead there are many references to ‘body states’ and ‘mind states’. Living organisms are changing continuously, assuming a succession of ‘states’, each defined by varied patterns of ongoing activity in all of its components. You might picture this as a composite of the actions of a slew of people and objects operating within a circumscribed area. Imagine yourself in a large airport terminal, looking around, inside and outside. You see and hear the constant bustle from many different systems: people boarding or leaving aircraft, or just sitting or standing; people strolling or walking by with seeming purpose; planes taxiing, taking off, landing; mechanics and baggage handlers going about their business. Now imagine that you freeze the frame of this ongoing video or that you take a wide-angle snapshot of the entire scene. What you get in the frozen frame or in the still snapshot is the image of a state, an artificial, momentary slice of life, indicating what was going on in the various organs of a vast organism during the time window defined by the camera’s shutter speed. (In reality, things are a bit more complicated than this. Depending on the scale of analysis, the states of organisms may be discrete units or merge continuously.)

You seemed to be saying that ‘states of being’ were OK concepts whereas Multiple-I’s were some kind of mumbo-jumbo. Just to find out where it would get me, I decided to capture a ‘state of being’ for myself. States of being are generally construed as somehow belonging to oneself.

My belief (far from being slavishly after Gurdjieff who never shows how to use the idea—it’s just where I got the idea from) is that there can be no progress, no resolution to ‘problem states’ while we still think of ourselves as single Unified-I. We habitually attach Unified-I to everything we do/think/feel. We are conditioned to do this because an apparently unified ‘I’ is the subject of all the verbs we use to describe our own behaviour. Changing the behaviour of one part of ourselves (one ‘I’) is a waste of time when we don’t take other ‘I’s into account. This of course is of no account if one is always happy with the way one behaves.

States of being are really interesting in terms of a ‘stream of consciousness’ but provide no way forward; they are stuck in time and place.

To release its many elements into some kind of functional usefulness, to promote a slightly more resourceful living of life, should one wish to do that, ‘a state of being’ has to be analysed somehow—it’s a conglomerate of observations, thoughts, recollections, moods and ratiocinations (etc); it’s interesting, if nothing else, to see how this works out in terms of Multiple-I’s. The analysis generates possibilities for subsequent action and thinking and feeling.

So, following Damasio and for my own amusement, I sat down last night and took a Snapshot at one moment of a mind/body state… ‘Snapshot’ an impossibility—more like a brief video loop—something that keeps on going back in on itself like a Robbe-Grillet novel—round and round a mark on the wall as in Jealousy… A state of being is a complex. It’s not long after sunset on a Sunday evening in October. The sky has cleared so that it has returned to the cloudlessness that was there at sunrise. Through midday cloud had gathered. I have lit a fire and a log sinks down on the coals. A feeling of body-mind contentment steels over me. Not happiness—contentment, full of content… An interim moment between action in relation to a journal I edit for which in this month I have to process daily showers of emails from all over the world—between that and sinking back into the book I’m reading knowing that what I read there will cause me to reach for pen and notebook from time to time. The very phrase ‘Autumn Sunday evenings’ provides a warm reminder of things I used to do on such occasions in the past which ministers to my state of being: coming home after a cycle ride in the fifties, bringing a girl home to tea whose presence was not at all welcome to my mother—momentary recollection of adolescent anguish & incomprehension—walking with the same girl in various romantic venues—same mixture of warmth & anguish—my mother whom I blamed for causing the anguish now dead and unanswerable to anything I might have to say, which I wouldn’t either then or now sixty years later. My ex-father-in-law comes to mind who used to say that he was always miserable on Sunday evenings because of some familial religious observances in his youth. All of this enters into my state of being and the feeling of contentment is a little affected by the memories; but I can re-establish it by thinking of a little garden I had dug for myself in an alleyway which I often used to tend on Sunday afternoons. And now I go into Monday, anticipating a journey by train to Colchester where I shall play music for an hour or so; I feel at home with this idea. I will have to prepare scores in the morning, leaving everything till the last minute which is my usual pattern. Things always seem to get done that way. Once on Sunday evenings it was preparing lessons for the following week. Right now I wonder what music to put on the gramophone for the evening and it’s time for crumpets. All this of course takes place much more quickly than the time it takes to write it all down—it’s a composite, memories, wonderings, immediate responses to things. Much of my state of being is left out. How does one move from this complex to another one? What is it that moves? It’s not the state that moves for whatever state of being I go into next will be complexly different; it will all just flow. The general feeling of contentment persists into the evening with a piece of music I’d forgotten I had—Qunikio Hashimoto’s 1st Symphony; it’s been a long-time habit to buy records of things totally unknown to me—one of the joys of going into a record shop & chancing your arm. Big ginger cat on my lap looking into my eyes. Hip pain at a low ebb. The warmth of the fire. All this is my state of being. How to manage ‘state’? Can’t be done as a whole; all the bits keep shifting around. What are the bits? Transient connections between neurons in different parcels across the brain responding to remembered items, sudden shifts of images, different bits of the story I tell myself. My being is dependent on images & stories. The bits keep shifting: bit 1 is, as it were, contented; bit 2 is a crick in the neck which I solve by changing my position; bit 3 remembers ancient Sundays in Autumn; bit 4 responds to the music that’s playing; bit 5 squints at cat on lap; bit 6 looks to see if another log’s needed. Rather than call them bits or sub-states, I’ll them parts of me or, since it’s all just words, meaningless squiggles and sounds which we interpret, separate Multiple-I’s. So long as you know I’m not talking about a ghost or two in my machine, or a congregation of homunculi, so long as you know that I do not intend reification but simply aim to tag the bits of my experience somehow to tie them back to a functional concept there need be no scrap. Within my ‘state of being’ which it’s taken me the length of a football match, including interval, to depict, to construct as a composite whole, in my terms there has been quite a variety of ‘I’s jostling for attention. When marshaled into some kind of order, these ‘I’s enable me to manage my ‘state’ which, in itself, is all over the place. in this case, it really doesn’t matter that it’s all over the place because what over-arches it is Being-contented-I. In a situation where ‘I’ was being driven into a state of exasperation (for instance), choosing to be driven thus, I might not wish to be in Exasperated-I and a quick cataloguing of the ‘I’s I was going through would enable me to re-establish Being-in-equanimity-I or Being-indifferent-I or whatever else came up. From experience, there does seem to be an ‘I’ that can generally manage I-ness by contrast with trying to poke its finger into a ‘state of being’ which is more or less unmanageable because of its complexity—one might even call its stream of consciousness a ‘mess’. But I’m not in Exasperated-I right now though I could easily get there by contemplating going back to a shop owner who’s done an expensive job for me in completely the wrong way—sufficient unto the day…

I was then inclined to go back over this Sunday-evening-in-October-state and note the ‘I’s Simple-I’d been through. This would be to go into what I find it useful to call ‘Meta-I’, the ‘I’ that can stand back from all the others and take a dispassionate, non-involved, view of things in order to manage the shiftiness of ‘I’s. An Executive-I. In this case, since I am fundamentally in Being-contented-I it will just be a resumé—I’m not aiming to resolve anything, not even to abolish past anguish from which there is an ‘I’ that derives a certain obscure pleasure.

Here are some ‘I’s visited:-

•    Wanting-to-depict-a-relationship-between-Multiple-I’s-and-state-I
•    Getting-a-kick-out-of-the-process-I
•    Taking-a-snapshot-of-a-state-I
•    Realising-the-ultimate-impossibility-of-the-task-I
•    Relishing-ambiguity-I
•    Recalling-Robbe-Grillet-I
•    Defining-state-as-a-complex-I
•    Focussing-on-time-&-place-I
•    Recalling-sunday-evenings-in-October-I
•    Lighting-a-fire-I
•    Tending-a fire-I
•    Sawing-up-logs-I
•    Poised-between-activities-I
•    Sinking-into-a-book-I
•    Reaching-for-pen-&-notebook-I
•    Tracking-back-into-historical-sunday-evenings-I
•    Momentary-identification-with-old-anguish-&-incomprehension-I
•    Remembering-mother-I
•    Re-establishing-contentment-I
•    Anticipating-a-train-journey-I

And so on… The complex I described as a ‘state of being’ can be more usefully broken down into Multiple-I’s. What is the use of it?

•    Realising much more about the intricate make-up of my being, how things overlap and coalesce;
•    Understanding the fleeting nature of untagged states.
•    Noticing more clearly how one moves smoothly, unquestioningly between this & that.
•    Developing the ability to stand back from it all and watch it happening.
•    Recognising patterns in the way I choose to live my life.
•    Becoming more experienced at managing them.

You may call all this codswallop—I expect it is.

H: Of course I don’t think that what you have written is codswallup. Far from it. It is not codswallup; it’s a speculative model of temporal consciousness. A bit cluttered up with reified labels maybe (and is, I have to say, essentially a masculine model, a collector’s model. Sets of ‘I’s ordered and boxed by memory. I could not imagine a woman producing a model so utterly empty of significant content.)

M: A masculine model… utterly empty of significant content…? Ah well…

H: A 100 minutes well spent on the monitoring of moments. A good bit of writing.  And I understand what you are describing perfectly. What I don’t understand, is the significance you attach to your Multiple-I model of self. It is so plainly empty—I’m surprised you cannot see what I see. I may be missing something but what you describe does not produce anything new. You go round in circles, restating the same bits of bad logic, retelling the same story. It reads like an article of faith, a statement of commitment, and not really a critically thought out or empirically grounded theory. I’ve suggested this before.  I guess you need to do more work on your model. I wish you all the best with that. And I do hope you eventually come up with something interesting.

In passing, your claim that your model ‘works’ in conjunction with the ‘exercises’—I suppose as some sort of justification or proof, this does not move an old sceptic like me. By the same token argument, it is possible to ‘justify’ belief in all sorts of myths and fantasies, from angels to demonic possession, alien abduction, faith healing and so on and on and on. Spent some time quite a few years back researching cults and other models of belief. Given a social context, an esteemed peer group, a significance ceremony, and a goal of peer group concord in producing a brand new truth, and people will believe just about any old nonsense. I seem to be forever telling my brother, that conviction is not a criterion of truth but I’m afraid my brother is a classic case of social loner drift into an obscure and eccentric world view. He is dangerously dotty.  He has however, to his merit I suppose, read the entire output of Gurdjieff, Ouspensky and that chap JG Bennett among others. He is as dismissive of my world view as I of his. A distinction he drew between us forty years ago was taken from Alan Watts’ caricatures, ‘goo’ and ‘prickle’. No prizes for guessing which category he assigned me to.

I want to to steer away from a possible misunderstanding: Room One is clearly a valued piece of autobiographical memoir. Clearly it matters to you. People generally do not give copies of their books out to readers if they do not regard the contents as in some way worthy, or are not in some way proud of or pleased with the finished product. Writing something which addresses the reader several times as Room One does, is something written with the reader in mind; the intention is that the book is for other eyes, ‘properly published’ as you say or privately published. My remark about 120 pages of quotations was a truncated way of simply saying that no publisher would touch it because the range of copyrights involved would not make it worth their while. I know from personal experience that editors carry, along with the red pens in their top pockets, a scalpel. So that is all I meant. Room One is a good read, and personally it caused me to dally momentarily with the possibility of re-reading Hesse, and reading Galsworthy for the first time. But, for a man who enjoys the craft of writing, and who takes care over words and the balance of impressions in your poetry, there are, it has to be said, one or two wooden passages in Room One that could so easily be smoothed out. I could draw your attention to them if you wish, but if it matters not a scrap we can leave that issue now. No more talk of Room One from me.

You may have a copy, but if not, I find I have two copies of Lord Jim. You are welcome to one. I read it at school under the tutelage of a most fearsome and austere teacher from Belfast—always suited in a three piece Irish tweed, and flinty steel rimmed glasses bent round his head that furrowed his temples. He beat us with verse until we were numb with the poetry of Yeats. I opened Lord Jim for the first time in over fifty years, and it became immediately clear what a powerful teacher he was. I could instantly recall his exposition and discussion of page one, and how he brought it to life and made it fill the classroom. Astonishing, locked away in a memory store all these years.

M: I suspect that there are many more things about which we would agree than disagree. This ought to be celebrated. But I suspect that there are irreconcilable differences that would make for the building of fortifications and brick walls. I think that you cast me adrift in the same boat as your brother whom you ‘…seem to be forever telling… that conviction is not a criterion of truth…’ Your description of him as ‘…a classic case of social-loner-drift into an obscure and eccentric world view. He is dangerously dotty…’ seems to fit both you and me; it’s unlikely that the conversation of ‘dangerously dotty’ people would make any kind of sense to anybody let alone the ‘dotty people’ themselves.

In spite of appearances, I too think of myself as a sceptic. I remember rating Descartes’ systematic doubt very highly when I was 17 and becoming totally mystified when it came to his not doubting the existence of God from whom I had not long severed myself. I cling to the memory that the word ‘sceptic’ comes from the Greek σκοπομαι meaning to consider something very closely. So when you say ‘…your claim that your model ‘works’ in conjunction with the ‘exercises’—I suppose as some sort of justification or proof—this does not move an old sceptic like me…’ it seems pretty clear to me that you are not a sceptic in the original sense because you do not even ask me what the ‘exercises’ are—what they consist of, how they work… In the modern sense ‘to be sceptical’ is simply to be cynical about the possible truth in anything.

Covey’s 5th Habit of Highly Effective People says ‘Seek first to understand before ever trying to make yourself understood…’ It seems to me that you tell me something that’s more or less obvious (that one needs ‘scientific’ evidence to sustain beliefs) while making assumptions about where I’m coming from by reference to, let’s say, crazy beliefs you’ve come across in the past. You may well be right in this but we’ve got nowhere near a true exchange of ideas yet…

I’ve spent best part of the last forty years trying to make sense of the scattered bits of 4th Way teaching and happen to think that I’ve got somewhere with it as something that ‘works’. You dump me together with what you assume to be my beliefs on the same heap as your brother and Colin Wilson—I have to say that, from the evidence of his writings on the subject, the latter got nowhere near what the 4th Way is all about.

Until I got into NLP I knew no other systematic approach to understanding human experience; all the rest is just bits & pieces. The good thing about the 4th Way is that it is, as Gurdjieff & Ouspensky suggest, not a system, not a body of ideas to which one can subscribe just like that, not a cult, but a set of ideas & ploys that have to be worked on during the process of living. Just like NLP which you claim to ‘know about’, as you claim to know about many other things I mention but from a purely cerebral angle. You admit that you are primarily ‘cerebral’.

I think you said there were just two things: experience and recollections; I agree. I would then go on to ask: “Which experience and which recollections?” And in thinking about that I would say that there’s no such thing as ‘experience’ in the singular and no such thing as ‘recollection’ in the singular—they are both abstractions, meaningless until you fill their barrows with examples of particular experiences and recollections.

I buy into the idea that ‘memory’ is an abstraction: remembering (the verb) is a reconstructive activity. In the same way, ‘experience’ is a meaningless abstraction: experiencing (the verb) is a reconstructive activity. Asked to remember what one was doing on the 20th August 1955 at midday (as I can…), one immediately goes into a reconstructive process. Asked what the content of one’s experience is at this moment, again, reconstruction (of events, thoughts, contexts, pains, excitements) starts up. You can see where this is leading…

Antonio Damasio (distinguished neuroscientist) has the notion of ‘somatic markers’, bits of neuro-biological surges that have attached themselves to patterns of experience we’ve had in the past: each time we recognise a pattern in what we like to think of as ‘the present moment’ a somatic marker is alerted and we go “Ah, yes…” As it might be, in your case, “Here’s somebody who’s been taken over by the Gurdjieff Old Men and has ceased thinking at that point…” or in my case, “Ah yes, here’s somebody who hasn’t yet shaken off the shackles of a Catholic upbringing…” Neither angle may have any basis in existential reality but the ‘somatic markers’ are there. Brain Lancaster (Mind Brain and Human Potential) would maybe be happy to associate his own 1992 notion of ‘I-tags’ with the concept of ‘somatic markers’ and with Multiple-I’s.

A Letter Never Sent (to avoid the Expression of Negative Emotion)

You wish us to continue this conversation ‘live’ with a bottle of wine. I prefer to have time to think. Time for writing.

As against spontaneous chatting on telephone or by the fireside, the advantage of written testimony is that it provides a platform for discussion; the spoken word, whilst providing food for thought, as it has done for us on the telephone, disappears out of the window. One cannot be held to the words that have dissolved into the ether; you cannot check back on what was said, should you wish to. I can see that you prefer the spoken word because it enables you to browbeat an ‘opponent’ who is then forced into self-justification. I don’t do self-justification and so I choose to be crushed into silence. I suppose that would seem like victory to you.

As I have previously noted, one ethical principle I hold to is never to force another person into the traps of self-justification, making accounts and the Expression of Negative Emotion which is why I will not be sending this letter to you. In ordinary circumstances I withdraw when I find myself being trapped into self-justification etc,  key aspects of False personality.

Your sense of ‘conversation’ also seems to be one-way traffic—no room for a response. It’s a bit like a person who writes a ‘closed text’—no room for argument, rather too well organised, all the t’s dotted and i’s crossed—discussion is not intended.

As no doubt you are aware, an ‘open text’ invites the reader to engage in a sort of cloze procedure. I fondly imagine that the ROOM series consists of open texts. I gave you a copy of ROOM ONE because I thought it would spark an interesting conversation to fill the gaps between us and it has to some extent but it’s difficult: the cogs don’t mesh; rust rules.

I think it’s true in general that the nature of what is communicated by speech or book or newspaper is always determined by the mind of the receiving reader; whether you take the ROOM series to be open or closed will depend on you: a closed mind will naturally interpret my drift as closed to other possibilities; an open mind will think that they have been welcomed to enter a large and ever-expanding playground. I’m not at all sure that you’d recognise a playground if you saw one. Not my kind of playground anyway.

Sartre in What is Literature (1947-ish) pointed out that if there’s one book with fifty readers there are in fact 50 books. My American contact clearly holds a different ROOM book from the one you hold which, in itself, says nothing about the book but more about reader response.

The spoken word (a completely different universe of discourse from the written word, as Vygotsky points out) depends for its expression and reception on a large number of variables: the delivery-pace of the speaker v the thinking style of the listener; the assertiveness of the speaker v the certainty (or lack of it) of the receiver’s assumptions/opinions; assumptions about where the listener/speaker is conceptually (‘mind-reading’ in NLP, ‘internal considering’ in Gurdjieffery), the degree to which both listener and speaker adhere to Stephen Covey’s 5th Habit of highly effective people—‘seek first to understand before ever trying to make yourself understood…’

You ask me why I incorporate so many quotations in ROOM ONE. The answer is very simple: I consider that my intellectual life has been formed by the unrigorous diet of reading that I’ve consumed in 70 years. I have been obsessed by the idea of making a record of it for no other reason at least to start with than to satisfy a personal desire for a kind of order, for putting my own house in order, as Eliot says at the end of The Wasteland. All one can possibly achieve.

Quotations are a useful stimulus to thinking. All the millions of words in those books arranged around the walls of my library—the ROOM where it’s all rooted/routed—so much human thought… That essay I wrote at Teacher Training College on Moby Dick consisting entirely of quotations… It was written, as I pointed out, after reflecting on something Hans Keller in a  3rd Programme talk advocated—viz musical criticism done solely by extracts from a piece of music. The listener had to have an ear agile enough to recognise repetition, development and variation of themes etc.

It indicated to me a great deal about the way your mind works:  without seeking to understand my drift, without stopping to think (Covey’s Habit One) you accused me, as with the case of a student you once had, of passing off other people’s writing as my own.

But perhaps I did not give you the full story. (Do we ever get a full story—in both imagined and real life?)

To engage in a chunk of self-justification just for a moment… In the preface to my essay I introduced the reader to Hans Keller’s notion of reconstructive music ‘criticism’; I then pointed out that my experimental essay on Moby Dick would attempt the same kind of thing: by using judiciously selected quotations, I planned to answer the provocative question ‘What’s all this Fuss about a Whale?’ set by a very beautiful eastern woman lecturer (since dead of a brain tumour, I believe) by having the reader go through an experience of reading my choice of quotations suitably sequenced.

This was absolutely not, as I may have given you the impression it was, to do with lifting from a text in the way that your student did. In fact whenever I’m quoting I go out of my way to acknowledge my source as a sort of celebration of earlier contributors to ‘the conversation of mankind’. I am scrupulous to the point of finickiness in recording the sources of my quotations, author & title and often page reference. Not in the case of Melville, of course, but I have often made the point that quotations are celebrations of the writing of those whom most people have never heard of and certainly don’t care about; quotations rejuvenate the life & work of the person quoted. My only claim to anything is to have read and been responsible for celebrating people who have often sunk without trace into the dusty passages of secondhand bookshops.

My found poem hangup is a celebration of those prose-writers who, unwittingly, conceal poems in their writing; my self-appointed task there is to release the poems and make reference to the source.

It’s now about a year since Herbert left our house in what appeared to be a ‘state’ of towering rage; we had enjoyed a midday meal with him in jovial mood and were sitting in front of a log-fire, he and I engaging in desultory ‘philosophical’ exchanges; Euphemia, being the far more sociable of the two of us and having up-to-the-minute inside information on various issues (deriving from her secretarial duties) which she thought he might think worth having, offered him some titbits which she deemed might be important for the furtherance of his cause. Without stopping for thought (again) Herbert went into a state of what one might call ‘high dudgeon’ and accused Euphemia of ‘setting him up’, presumably because he chose to feel he was being manipulated into taking action which he did not wish to be thus forced into. His tone was so aggressive that we were both reduced to silence; he walked out of the room in inexplicable fury throwing vicious words at Euphemia and that was the end of our philosophical exchanges.

One is left wondering what it was all about. Perhaps it was a case of Having-been-catholic-educated-I in consort with Being-stoutly-lapsed-catholic-I both moving into Being-in-a-state-of-constant-rebellion-against-perceived-authority-I and then, when ‘authority’ appears to rise up to take charge of him, winding up in Irrationally-enraged-I… There was certainly nothing of judicious Meta-I in the incredibly staged exit. All this was maybe driven by some ‘…real or imaginary pain, grudge, frustration, angst …’, something he choose to allow at that moment to hi-jack his brain. We will never know.

Stepping across the room into a different ‘I’ might have been useful to him, might have ensured a welcome in this house on a future occasion.

The few times when we have bumped into him down in the village since, it is as though this event never happened—not much friendliness for sure but nothing in the way of the need for reconciliation. Strangers passing in a village street.

How scrupulously I avoided unloading all the Enneagram Mumbo-jumbo on Herbert! He probably saw me as setting myself up as some kind of authority anyway; he was quite correct in his supposition that parts of Room One were intended to instruct! Being convinced of his own rectitude, he did not require instruction. Doubtless this was a case of one Fixated Five meeting another Fixated Five in profound antagonism.

A person with a downward-spiralling Five Fixation typically goes on the offensive at opposition and sets out to antagonise those who hold some opposing point of view; is nihilistic about relationships and has a need to maintain isolation. A downward-spiralling Five tends to keep a sense of self alive by rejecting threats from others and projects antagonism towards self on to others so that everybody seems dangerous. Thoughts have a life of their own; the mind races wildly. A downward-spiralling Five cuts itself off and removes itself from all thoughts and feelings.

Being a Five, I’m well aware of this syndrome; I kid myself that for the most part I choose to rise to a different place on the Five ladder.

However, I also recognise my ‘soul-child’ in Herbert at downward spiralling 8—which he appears never to have grown out of—fully capable of becoming a ruthless tyrant, belligerent and bullying with a belief in being tough, on the understanding that might is right and that expedience is all. Resenting what appears to be others taking charge, downward-spiralling Eights forbid all questioning of their commands but only really seek to intimidate those they sense are vulnerable—they have to be sure they will succeed. It’s impossible to be intimate with a downward-spiralling Eight since friendliness and cooperation are taken to be signs of weakness; it acts in a way that suggests ‘More power—less need to justify’ with delusional ideas about being god-like, lacking any capacity of self-restraint; it wants to destroy authority before authority gets to the stage of being the destroyer.

Downward spiralling 8 moving to downward spiralling 5 becomes even more mired, utterly incapable of being able to lead itself anywhere.

4 thoughts on “The ROOM Series (R11)

  1. Actually, a couple of things. Not making this a character assassination or an ad hominem argument, Herbert sounds like an interesting and damn smart chap in his way, but I do always think that when someone likes to bring up their “IQ” then alarm bells should sound a bit. Sure, having a high IQ might allow you to perform some great mental gymnastics, but so what? There’s no need to state the IQ, just do the gymnastics and demonstrate it! What would the point of me telling you I can run 100 metres in under 10 seconds be (in some imaginary world where I could)? To make it interesting I’d have to actually show you that I can do it! Stating IQ is usually meant to do some job or other, impressing without having to actually impress, or positioning oneself in some sort of authority position, that kind of thing. At least in my experience. Many of the best minds in science have relatively unimpressive IQ, high but not exceptionally (Herbert’s 159 is exceptionally high) – their incredible scientific achievement is born out of enthusiasm and tenacity more than a stunningly impressive capacity to engage in abstract logic and word games.

    My other, probably more interesting, thought was that showing Herbert (though it’s too late now I realise) the work of Jacob Needleman could be interesting. Particularly his book “What is God?” – if you haven’t read it, that autobiographical work of Needleman charts his move from atheist professional analytic philosopher with a strongly sceptical viewpoint gradually through to professor of philosophy of religion with a penchant for (a word I know you hate, Colin) the spiritual side of life, still remaining a good sceptic and not a wooly thinker.


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