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  Time and Initiative        From Google books – by David Applebaum

is time an illusion 200    Is time an illusion?

The question of time was first felt by humans not as an abstraction but practically:

  • In the rise and fall of rivers.
  • The periodic return of the moon and constellations of stars.
  • The migration of prey, and the progression of seasons.
  • At the dawn of civilization early sciences — geometry, astronomy, and music — arose and were specific solutions to the question of time.

Consciousness did not yet distinguish the inner from the outer, or experience from the cosmos to which it belonged.

  • Recurrence was manifest also in human life, in the ebb and flow of opportunities, moods, and sensations.
Second Line of Thought

But if purpose was to survive outer change (like the boundaries of farmers' fields in spring floods), humans were called to discover a relatively stable presence, an awareness consciuos of impermanence. Thought in this regard followed one of two paths.

  • One led to the question of appropriate action: how to respond to a moment's unique demands without losing sight of the background sameness of the cycle. Hunting rituals were early solutions. They were followed by agrarian festivals and later, oracular texts such as the I Ching and the Tai Hsuan Ching.
  • The second line of thought concerned the utter perishability of memories and experiences. Since every event disappeared in its time without a trace, the question was one not of timing, but of survival and preservation.
  • While the first line drew consciousness outward toward phenomena, the second cast awareness inwardly, toward understanding.

Immemorial lineages of initiates bore witness to teaching of time's mystery that revealed the specifically human place in the cosmos.

  • Partial accounts in philosophical and religious systems are without doubt distorted with regard to the propriety of action and the imperishability of the agent.
  • They can however, serve as a starting point from which to see the preeminent importance of Gurdjieff's account of time.

Gurdjieff's thoughts can be approached from an implicit critique of existing theories.

  • Such formulations are deficient because they deprive humans of a dimension of initiative — one cannot express an intention to be.
  • If humanity is left outside of time, exiled on a foreign shore, time ceases to be, in Gurdjieff's vivid expression in Beelzebub's Tales to His Grandson, the “Ideally-Unique-Subjective-Phenomenon,” indispensable to inner development.

Independent of the intentional events of which it is the inner aspect, time takes on a shadowy form of existence.

  • Thought is moved to image time as a container; all human endeavor is in  time the way that water is in a glass.
  • The alienation of time from inner life, moreover, has, according to Gurdjieff, grave consequences for human growth. Time must allow that people be “obliged to exist until there was coated in them and completely perfected by reason what is called the body-Kesdjan,'… the 'Astral-body.'” [1]
  • Once time is sundered from man's obligation of being, the human horizon is reduced to animality, to the time of cravings and appetite.
  • Time appears insufficient to serve the aim of human self-perfection; “Time past and time future/Allow but a little consciousness.” [2]

According to Gurdjieff, received ideas of time overlook a fundamental distinction. Time for perfecting the self and time for occasioning mechanical events fall under different principles, the “Foolasnitamnian” and the “Itoklanos”. [3]

This insight has considerable importance for the discussion of cosmologies below.

  • For a concentrated act of human initiative (as opposed to the automatic reaction to external influences) involves a cosmic difference in the nature of things.
  • It places one under a vitalizing principle which elevates one's deepest wish for wholeness to actuality.
  • It dispels identification with an entropy that feeds an inner darkness and drains aspiration.
  • It grants entry into the realm of being and doing.
  • By contrast, to ignore the distinction is to confine humanity to a time of decay and decomposition.
Four Ideas

Of the major theories, all are based on one of four ideas. The key notions are:

  1. Constancy
  2. Cyclicity
  3. Cataclysm
  4. Evolution

Typically, ancient Greek thought expresses the idea of time as:

  1. Constancy. Since the view rejects as illusory the movement of change, Aristotle argues time does not exist.[4]
  2. Indic thought conceives Cyclicity as the movement of time. Repeatedly beginning and ending an event enjoys no uniqueness because of its countless recurrences in other cycles.
  3. The Judaeo-Christian conception, secularized by Hegel, shows history foreboding its own end in Cataclysm and is another expression of time. History, the vehicle of God's will, continues until the decisive last moment toward which every event points.
  4. Evolution is the modern view: sustained unidirectional linear development, exemplified in interaction between the laws of entropy and of biological adaptability.

Before understanding the magnitude of Gurdjieff's discovery, each of these ideas needs to be examined.

The first, that time is constancy, is equivalent to a denial that time exists.

  • Since time experienced as a changeful, impermanent flux of events of the phenomenal world, a rejection of the flux concomitantly denies temporal movement altogether.
  • This is the effect of Zeno's well-known arguments against motion.[5]
  • A version of one of his paradoxes states that if it takes ten seconds for a stone to move from A to B, it will take five seconds to cross half the distance, two and a half seconds to cross a quarter the distance, and so on.
  • Since time can be broken down into an infinity of intervals and since completion of an infinite series is logically impossible, the stone will never reach point B.
  • The same is true of any single interval in time, however small. Therefore, there is no movement in time. Sectioned infinitesimally, time always remains the same.

Zeno's paradox prompts argument and counterargument.

  • Infinite divisibility, an intriguing thought, grants humans existence only outside time, since there is noting within the infinitesimal.
  • Within time, a division follows a different logic, falling into the automatic and the intentional.
  • The second accommodates a special effort of becoming; the first remains closed to it.
  • There is no way to cross from A to B in Zeno's proof because there is no room for a human capability other then the logical-rational — for instance, an illogical act.
  • Zeno excludes the essentially human, the act of realizing one's intention — so full of unexpectedness and surprises — that allows one to cross to the other side.

The second idea, cyclicity, stresses an experience of recurrence.

  • A cycle is a movement that returns to its beginning.
  • If time curves back on itself, what has happened will happen again.
  • All hopes and regrets of one life will again be felt, accepted or rejected, and passed thought.
  • Uniqueness is illusory since each event is a repetition of numerous other.
For instance:
  • In the Brahmanvairvarta Purana, Indra, king of the gods, learns that he has been preceded by an army of former Indras, as many as a long line of ants on parade.
  • In our day, Nietzsche attempted to work out the consequences of time as eternal recurrence.

If a life is an endless loop, not only does the past determine the present, but the future does also.

  • A time in which to mobilize the impulse to real change cannot exist.
  • The cycle is impenetrable to higher influences which abruptly and without warning alter the intrinsic being of a man.[6]

Thirdly, in the cataclysmic view in which history constitutes the field of time, Hegel says, World history in general is the development of Spirit in Time… [7]

  • Historical events manifest the purpose of a higher power.
  • In Hegel's secularized thought, “World history is the exhibition of spirit striving to attain knowledge of its own nature.” [8]
  • Inasmuch as attainment brings history to an end, history is secondary to the end of history — in Judaeo-Christian tradition, the apocalypse.
  • Destruction of the world and its history coincides with one's hope to enjoy a timeless form of existence.
  • Worthiness is independent of individual initiative toward the aim of becoming.

Similarly, for Hegel, the inner work of a single human is subordinate to the development of divine self-knowledge.

  • Human striving must be sacrificed “on the vast altar of the earth throughout the long lapse of ages.” [9]
  • Human effort is expendable in the cosmic order because humanity is a pawn in the divine play of self-realization.

Fourth is the view that time is evolutionary progress.

  • Biological species or social organizations are capable of evolving along lines that increase their value.
  • Evolutionary movement means a gradual improvement of a species or group in terms of its capability to adapt or survive.
  • Time is reduced to amelioration, as determined by mechanical laws.

Such a reduction fails to address the question of whether consciousness arises through evolution, or evolution through consciousness.

  • In addition, time is external to human intention that remains vulnerable to the whims of evolutionary force.
Kant's 1st Antinom

To grasp the tremendous advance that Gurdjieff makes, we must remember that all cosmological thinking on time must address the legacy of Kant's first antinomy. Kant places the four antinomies, or contradictions between two equally valid principles, at the heart of modern epistemology.

The first antinomy asks whether time exists before the world or the world before time.

Since from each alternative a valid argument follows, neither is capable of rational proof. How does Gurdjieff meet the antinomy?

By positing a beginningless, independent time (In Beelzebub's Tales called “the Heropass”) that precedes creation of the world and is coeval with the Creator.

  • Preoriginary, anarchical time plays a key role in sparking the initiative to create the universe.
  • Time with no origin devours the place with no displacement.
  • Anarchical time would “sooner or later bring about the complete destruction of this sole place of His Being.” [10]

The most poignant effect of creation is to modify, if not time itself, at least time's inner workings.

  • Time at the origin bears the mark of creative intention.
  • The same new temporal dimension responsible for the world's existence is also responsible for the human possibility of inner development.

Kant thus has been answered: creation necessarily requires modification of a time more ancient than presence.

Two Prime laws

Time's transformation occupies the heart of Gurdjieff's cosmology: To understand its ramifications, a review of his major cosmological principles is helpful.

Gurdjieff posits two prime laws:

1.  The law of process (“the sacred Heptaparaparshinokhh”).

  • The law of process speaks of a sevenfold development of all events, great and small, organic and inorganic, spiritual and material, conscious and automatic.
  • It establishes what takes place at each phase, the timing of the phases, and their possible completion.
  • It also indicates when a line of growth is open to influences and when it is closed to the external world.

2.  The law of phenomena (“the sacred Triamazikamno”).

  • The law of phenomena describes a threefold interaction of fundamental cosmic forces.
  • That which becomes manifest depends solely on how three primal forces combine.

These two prime laws clearly are interdependent. Phenomena develop lawfully out of one another in their movement toward an end.

  • Phase two of a project is a lawful outgrowth of phase one, taking into account influences of other lines of development passing through that locale.
  • If the law of process choreographs a dance, the law of phenomena determines placement of dancers.

As Gurdjieff formulates the law of phenomena, “the higher blends with the lower in order to actualize the middle and thus becomes either higher for the preceding lower, or lower for the succeeding higher.” [11]

Creation is enacted by a unique alteration in the two prime laws, especially in the law of process.

  • Before creation, they operate on a closed and isolated system. The hermetically sealed design Gurdjieff calls “Autoegocrat”. [12]
  • The redesigned system (“Trogoautoegocrat”) is governed by laws of interdependence, reciprocity, and exchange.
  • The revised features presupposes the original configuration. Since later design requirements stipulate existences outside of the originary, hermetic system, provisions for world-creation are implicit to the alteration.
  • Since the motive for redesign, as seen before, is to counteract entropic effects of anarchical time, the world leaps into being for the sake of coping with the Heropass, Time, the Destroyer.

The many cosmoses come to exist in response to the divine alteration of fundamental law.

  • The most important change occurs in the law of process.
  • In two separate phases, any line of development opens to external influences.
  • Until this change, it is incorrect to speak of influence at all, since occurrences are constructed to prevent anything coming in; what take place is necessarily self-contained and (to use the Leibniz's pregnant expression) "windowless."
  • A new phase of growth merely projects a vision already internal to the process up to that point.

One of the alterations is near the midpoint of development is particularly crucial.

  • At that point, presence of other processeses influences the outcome of development in such a way that the end result can become public, environmental, and therefore communal.
  • The life of one process begins to enter the life of other processes.
  • Material is shared. Hermetic self-containment remains a possibility.
  • The old way of operating remains intact, but only as it, as Gurdjieff says, the “same process proceeds in absolute quiet.”[13]
  • The self-projective character of development is replaced by a new basis of dynamics, exchange: the “principle of existence of everything existing in the Universe by means of reciprocal feeding and maintaining each other's existence.” [14]
Reciprocal Maintenance

Gurdjieff calls exchange “Iraniranumange”.

  • As a first thrust toward an open universe, it ends the threat of an entropic decline by establishing “that equilibrium which at the present time no longer gives the merciless Heropass any possibility of bringing about anything unforseen whatsoever to our Most Great and Most Most Holy Sun Absolute.” [15]

Creation, the cosmic event of novelty, centers on need — a need for mutual support or reciprocal maintenance.

  • Gurdjieff's innovative idea of need creates a dynamic equilibrium proper to the organism.
  • The universe is newly opened by the invention of life, its needs and neediness.
  • In an organism, descending (catabolic) and ascending (anabolic) processes exist side by side.
  • The product of one becomes raw material for another.
  • Substance is conserved and recylced.

What regulates an infinite fine balance of processes is none other than time's new dimension, originary time, timing. Time (timing?) is the essence in any line of development.

  • If the fodder does not enter when the cow's stomach is prepared with proper enzymes, digestion will not ensue and the animal will starve.
  • Timing consists in the availability of one process to the needs of another process, conscous or mechanical.
  • Availability is guaranteed by a redesigned law of process.
  • Action of reciprocal maintenance works through timing of events.

The achievement of reciprocal maintenance is a great one: it is homeostasis.

  • Destructive, destabilizing effects of anarchical time — the other — are neutralized through good timing in mutually sustaining processes.
  • Timing is the great means for ensuring the life of the universe.
  • Its role is similar when it brings the dancer's performance to life.

Timing, the lawful interlocking of events, clearly belongs to ordinary time.

  • Man is no less subject to it than any other being.
  • Yet in timing lies a special opportunity for humanity, one in which humanity ceases to be subject to the laws but coauthor of them.

As an achievement, however, reciprocal maintenance is incomplete. Consider an analogy of the created universe with an organism.

  • An organism is not a closed sysetm of processes. It exists in open interaction with its surroundings and defeats entropy through ecological support.
  • Food, air, and the content of sensory impression derive from an environment and assure continuation of life.

The new design of the law of process, according to Gurdjieff, similarly places the created universe at the open edge of things.

  • Therein arises an important problem. Beyond the universe is empty space, nothing.
  • The conditions for environmental interactions that a single orgainsm enjoys do not exist.
  • On a cosmic scale, what prevents the totality of existents from becomming closed and succumbing to uncreated time and entropy?

It should be noted that a homeostatic universe is not an antientropic one, one in which energy is upgraded to higher levels of being.

  • A defeat of anarchical time is not a truimphal mastery over time.
  • An additional step is necessary: time must be utilized to ascend to a more consciously developed, elevated state of being.

Cosmology distinguishes a totality that lacks absolutely nothing in perfection from a differentiate and less than perfect form.

  • The later (God in contrast to Godhead, Isvara in contrast to Brahman) is lower inasmuch as it is subject to laws of becoming rather that pure intention.
  • In short, it has become manifest and, having come into being, it has disclosed itself as what it is and what it is not.

Gurdjieff makes the parallel distinction between absolute intention (“Theomertmalogos”) and the laws of its operation.

  • To upgrade the energies of creation is the aim and work of the former.
  • The reciprocally maintained universe apparently is the automatic result of the later.

Gurdjieff's thought takes an unexpected turn at this junction. Although the laws give the appearance of maintaining the cosmoses, there is a hidden aspect to reciprocal maintenance.

  • The revised design of the law of process, it will be recalled, intends an expanding universe.
  • The universe grows in number, kind, and diversity of beings.
  • The open edge of things is guaranteed through continual creation of beings other than those currently enjoying existence.
  • Without novelty, continuously remade, the universe would close on itself and die a death that awaits all beings under guise of the Heropass.
  • Yet a necessary thrust toward innovation forces another necessity on the intelligence behind all cosmic intelligence.

Note that the relation between the Absolute and the prime laws is a critical component of any cosmology.

  • The question arises: Does the former retire beyond all actions once the latter are functional?
  • For Gurdjieff, the expansive character of existence precludes quietism.
  • The Absolute, the Godhead, Brahman, is required to maintain continual engagement in the life of the cosmoses.
  • The circle whose center is everywhere and circumference nowhere is itself subject to the "laws" of geometrics.
  • The more numerous and far-flung the host of independent existences grows, the stronger the center must be.
  • Inversely, as the center grows in strength, the more centrifugal satellites will be there.

Gurdjieff's solution to the ravages of anarchical time is the expanding, reciprocally maintained cosmos.

  • The solution requires continued work of an absolute intention — not its retirement.
  • Unless the source of perfection becomes more actively concentrated, more intent on the aim of upgrading all existence, then the far-flung universe, already encroaching on empty space, will cease to be related to the center.
  • All things will become unhinged.
  • Without doubt, the Godhead's work is endless.

Now I want to return to the intention within our human search for perfection. The law of process, it will be recalled, provides a new aspect of time: timing.

  • Timing consists of making one process available to the needs of another process.
  • Human self-perfecting lies in the opportunity to participate consciously in matters of timing.

Participation is given by poise.

  • Poise is an attentive pause during which one's powers of action are gathered prior to entry into the fray.
  • The dancer acheves the moment of poise in order to override automatic movements of her body.
  • When poise is absent, mechanical and habitual patterns of locomotion determine what takes place.
  • The dancer's body, rather than her intentions, governs movement.
  • Habit accomplishes the limited aim of crossing from point A to point B. But the possibility of serving a higher aim is a seed concealed in locomotion.

Gurdjieff hints at the secret in Beelzebub, saying that when the Absolute “ascertained this automatic moving of theirs, there then arose for the first time in Him the Divine Idea of making use of it as a help for Himself in the administration of the enlarging World.” [16]

  • Timing of bodily movement — coordination of perception and muscular exertion — can proceed on its own or by means of conscious management of human intelligence.
  • When one masters timing, a unique cosmic phenomenon takes place — the antientropic flow.
  • Antientropy contrasts with an entropic flow (the Heropass) that predates the created universe.
  • Ordinary time must be reactualized by efforts of intelligent beings.
  • Entropy is already actual regardless of the absence or presence of inner work.

The "reverse" flow produces energies of ever greater intensity, integrity, and centrality.

  • They are such energies, as Gurdjieff puts it, “as proceed from cosmic sources of a higher order, and consequently composed of what are called vibrations of 'greater vivifyingness.'” [17]
  • The energies strengthen the center and counteract the dissapation of influence which is an inevitable result of unceasing expansion.
  • Cosmologically, they renew the resolve of the Absolute: to continue to perfect existence.

There can be no doubt as to the cosmic usefulness of conscious management of timing, or poise. But for humanity itself?

  • It is precisely in this direction that humanity's hope for self-perfection lies.
  • Timing provides humanity with a rich field for initiative.
  • To exercise the attention in such a way that, like the dancer, one enters into action poised and collected is to acquire what Gurdjieff calls “individual Reason”.
  • Consciousness is the way of recovering one's own center and its relation to the center of All.

Conscious participation in the timing of one's acts is related to what Gurdjieff calls “being-Partkdolg-duty”.

  • By its undertaking, one assists in “the administration of the enlarging World”, enriching an upward current of energy that stabilizes the hub of creation.
  • Without human assistance, the great chain of being is broken at the weak link where humanity exists.

Theories which lack an inner dimension of time are profoundly pessimistic. Humanity is not more than another cog within the mechanism of cosmic equilibrium.

  • To truncate the time-possibilities is to neglect the “two-naturedness” of humanity.
  • Human beings can be more than unknowing subjects of universal law.
  • They can, on rare occasions, be agents of prime law itself.
  • The new station belongs to “relatively independent existences” and requires individual awareness in high degree.
  • By deep affirmation of one's place, one gains a measure of feeedom from inherited and acquired factors of limitations, refusal, and despair, factors that annul an effort of being and leave one subject to the woes of entropic time.

A wholehearted embrace of the struggle for poise is the recovery of a dimension of human initiative.

  • It is the unveiling of what one really intends to do and to be — the discovery of which can take place only in and through creative time.
  • The lived understanding of timely action fulfills humanity's dual nature.
  • Timeliness uplifts humans from the gravity of earthly existence to the divine task of renewing the cosmos through renewal of self.

[1] G.I. Gurdjieff, Beelzebub's Tales to His Grandson (New York: Harcourt Brace, 1950), 131.

[2] "Burnt Norton" in The Four Quartets, in The Complete Poems and Plays of T.S. Eliot (New York: Harcourt, Brace and World, 1962).

[3] Gurdjieff, 131.

[4] Aristotle, Physics IV.10.218a.

[5] See, for example, Aristotle, 239b11-13.

[6] In contrast to the exoteric understanding of cyclicity, esoteric traditions in India allow for human initiative to free a preson from the frozen block of events constituting his life. The way of liberation or moksa locates an inner dimension to the cycle within the act of witnessing (saksi) the ceasless play of repetition.

[7] Reason in History: A General Introduction to the Philosophy of History, trans. Robert Hartman (New York: The Liberal Arts Press, 1953), 87.

[8] Ibid., 23.

[9] Ibid., 25.

[10] Gurdjieff, 749.

[11] Ibid. 751.

[12] Ibid. 750.

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