Tuesday, December 17, 2013

The Skeptic's Dictionary at - G. I. Gurdjieff & PD Ouspensky

Updated 17th December 2013 (original blog dated 10th December 2011)

Between 1982 and 1985 I attended lectures at the School of Economic Science (SES) (not to be confused with the London School of Economics!) in London. SES influences included G Gurdjieff and PD Ouspensky. On 10th December 2011 I spoke to a lady at Dorset Humanists who had been a member of another Gurdjieff group in London in the 1990s, which reminded me of my early philosophical influences. I agree with that GG/PDO system took little cognisance of science or the scientific method - and that, to me, was their fatal flaw.

To me both Gurdjieff and Ouspensky were the antithesis of skeptics; they were Aristotelian in their approach. The School of Economic Science used a sophisticated, but ultimately flawed method of anecdotal and personal evidence building, the antithesis of the scientific method.

As Brian Dunning ( said in 2013:
"Anecdotal evidence and personal testimonies generally don't meet the qualifications for scientific evidence, and thus won't often be accepted by a responsible skeptic; which often explains why skeptics get such a bad rap for being negative or disbelieving people. They're simply following the scientific method."
G. I. Gurdjieff

In the Skepdic's Dictionary Gurdjieff is given a mention in the A-Z (Abracadabra to Zombies) section. These  quotes I think are quite perceptive:-
  • He offered numerous claims and explanations for everything under the moon, rooted in little more than his own imagination and never tempered with concern for what science might have to say about his musings.
  • What makes a guru such as Gurdjieff attractive as a spiritual conquistador is his seemingly shrewd observation that most human beings who are awake act as if they are asleep. Gurdjieff also observed that most people are dead on the inside. I think he meant by these claims that most people are passive sheep and need a guru to give their lives vitality and meaning. That is to say, I believe Gurdjieff correctly noted that most people are neither skeptics nor self-motivated, and that many are easily duped by gurus because they want someone to show them the way to live a meaningful life. He offered to show his followers the way to true wakefulness, a state of awareness and vitality which transcends ordinary consciousness. 
  • Gurdjieff obviously had a powerful personality, but his disdain for the mundane and for natural science must have added to his attractiveness.
  • To those on a quest for spiritual evolution or transformation, guides like Gurdjieff and Ouspesky promise entry into an esoteric world of ancient mystical wisdom. Such a world may seem attractive to those who are drifting at sea and rudderless.
PD Ouspensky
According to
  • Ouspensky was a mathematician and mystic who played the St. Paul to Gurdjeff's Jesus, taking the occult and often unintelligible notions of the master and making them palatable, if no more comprehensible
  • Ouspensky is likely to remain a favourite among New Agers since he wrote books with titles like  Tertium Organum: The Third Canon Of Thought: A Key To The Enigmas Of The World, an attempt to reconcile the mysticism of the east with the rationalism of the west. 
Full list of Ouspensky writings here. In the 1980s when I was in my twenties, I  read at least 6 of his books. My favourite Ouspensky is The Psychology of Man’s Possible Evolution Online.

No comments:

Post a Comment