An experiment with the human psyché
Originally posted by Marsia Mariner https://medium.com/@marinermars71/an-experiment-with-the-human-psyché-e941ef70db68
NOTICE: this is an excerpt from the 12th chapter of Ouspensky’s book «In Search Of The Miraculous». “G.” stands for Gurdjieff
Conversations in groups continued as usual. Once G. said that he wanted to carry out an experiment on the separation of personality from essence. We were all very interested because he had promised “experiments” for a long time but till then we had seen nothing. I will not describe his methods, I will merely describe the people whom he chose that first evening for the experiment. One was no longer young and was a man who occupied a fairly prominent position in society. At our meetings he spoke much and often about himself, his family, about Christianity, and about the events of the moment connected with the war and with all possible kinds of “scandal” that had very much disgusted him. The other was younger. Many of us did not consider him to be a serious person. Very often he played what is called the fool; or, on the other hand, entered into endless formal arguments about some or other details of the system without any relation whatever to the whole. It was very difficult to understand him. He spoke in a confused and intricate manner even of the most simple things, mixing up in a most impossible way different points of view and words belonging to different categories and levels.
I pass over the beginning of the experiment.
We were sitting in the big drawing room.
The conversation went on as usual.
“Now observe,” G. whispered to us.
The older of the two who was speaking heatedly about something suddenly became silent in the middle of a sentence and seemed to sink into his chair looking straight in front of him. At a sign from G. we continued to talk without looking at him. The younger one began to listen to the talk and then spoke himself. All of us looked at one another. His voice had become different. He told us some observations about himself in a clear, simple, and intelligible manner without superfluous words, without extravagances, and without buffoonery. Then he became silent; he smoked a cigarette and was obviously thinking of something. The first one sat still without moving, as though shrunken into a ball.
“Ask him what he is thinking about,” said G. quietly.
“I?” He lifted his head as though waking up when he was questioned. “About nothing.” He smiled weakly as though apologizing or as though he were surprised at anyone asking him what he was thinking about.
“Well, you were talking about the war just now,” said one of us, “about what would happen if we made peace with the Germans; do you still think as you did then?”
“I don’t know really,” he said in an uncertain voice. “Did I say that?”
“Yes, certainly, you just said that everyone was obliged to think about it, that no one had the right not to think about it, and that no one had the right to forget the war; everyone ought to have a definite opinion; yes or no — for or against the war.”
He listened as though he did not grasp what the questioner was saying.
“Yes?” he said. “How odd. I do not remember anything about it.”
“But aren’t you interested in it?”
“No, it does not interest me at all.”
“Are you not thinking of the consequences of all that is now taking place, of the results for Russia, for the whole of civilization?”
He shook his head as though with regret.
“I do not understand what you are talking about,” he said, “it does not interest me at all and I know nothing about it.”
“Well then, you spoke before of your family. Would it not be very much easier for you if they became interested in our ideas and joined the work?”
“Yes, perhaps,” again in an uncertain voice. “But why should I think about it?”
“Well, you said you were afraid of the gulf, as you expressed it, which was growing between you and them.”
“But what do you think about it now?”
“I am not thinking about it at all.”
“If you were asked what you would like, what would you say?”
Again a wondering glance — “I do not want anything.”
“But think, what would you like?”
On the small table beside him there stood an unfinished glass of tea. He gazed at it for a long time as though considering something. He glanced around him twice, then again looked at the glass, and said in such a serious voice and with such serious intonations that we all looked at one another:
“I think I should like some raspberry jam.”
“Why are you questioning him?” said a voice from the corner which we hardly recognized.
This was the second “experiment.”
“Can you not see that he is asleep?”
“And you yourself?” asked one of us.
“I, on the contrary, have woken up.”
“Why has he gone to sleep while you have woken up?”
“I do not know.”
With this the experiment ended.
Neither of them remembered anything the next day. G. explained to us that with the first man everything that constituted the subject of his ordinary conversation, of his alarms and agitation, was in personality. And when his personality was asleep practically nothing remained. In the personality of the other there was also a great deal of undue talkativeness but behind the personality there was an essence which knew as much as the personality and knew it better, and when personality went to sleep essence took its place to which it had a much greater right.
“Note that contrary to his custom he spoke very little,” said G. “But he was observing all of you and everything that was taking place, and nothing escaped him.”
“But of what use is it to him if he also does not remember?” said one of us.
“Essence remembers,” said G., “personality has forgotten. And this was necessary because otherwise personality would have perverted everything and would have ascribed all this to itself.”
“But this is a kind of black magic,” said one of us. “Worse,” said G. “Wait and you will see worse than that”.