Gurdjieff International Review
Gurdjieff's Philosophy of Nature
by Basarab Nicolescu
It is becoming very fashionable almost everywhere to find parallels between modern science and this or that teaching, this or that philosophical system, this or that religion. The more or less hidden sociological root of such a tendency is quite obvious: the contemporary all-powerful "god" of technoscience is evoked as evidence of the "seriousness" of another field of knowledge.
Even if the intentions of certain seekers (and I include here those few who are drawn toward the relationship between science and the Gurdjieff teaching) are not tied to this sociological motivation, there is still a huge misunderstanding. The methodology and perspective of a teaching, a system of philosophy, or a religion are very different from the methodology and aim of modern science. To compare results or ideas judged to be similar can only lead to the worst illusions, to analogies that are soft and devoid of meaning, and, in the best of cases, to resonances that are felt as "poetic."
Nevertheless, the search for a real relationship between science and such fields of study would, in our opinion, be worthwhile. Such a relationship could be established if the teaching, the philosophical system, or the religion in question derives from a philosophy of nature.1
The fact that Gurdjieff's teaching contains a philosophy of nature is obvious, and the present study will attempt to support that affirmation. The hypothesis of a correspondence between man and nature is formulated without ambiguity by Gurdjieff:
It is impossible to study a system of the universe without studying man. At the same time, it is impossible to study man without studying the universe. Man is an image of the world. He was created by the same laws which created the whole of the world. By knowing and understanding himself, he will know and understand the whole world, all the laws that create and govern the world. And at the same time, by studying the world and the laws that govern the world, he will learn and understand the laws which govern him. The study of the world and the study of man must therefore run parallel, the one helping the other.2
The comparison between modern science and this type of philosophy goes beyond an intellectual exercise. In the first place, some great scientific discoveries have been guided by ideas from a philosophy of nature. For example, the role that German Naturphilosophie played in the discovery of electromagnetism in 1820 by Oersted is well known. Such cases are rare, but it is their existence, not their number, that is highly significant. These cases show that there is an intrinsic relationship, which is not devoid of meaning, between nature and a "realistic" philosophy of nature.
A second aspect seems still more important. The absence of meaning, above all the absence of a value system guiding technoscience, is perhaps the characteristic trait of our epoch. It is just in this context that we are going to examine Gurdjieff's philosophy of nature.
[The complete text is available in the printed copy of this issue.]
Copyright © 1997 Basarab Nicolescu|
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Featured: Winter 1997/1998 Issue, Vol. I (2)
Revision: April 9, 2001