Lecture 02 — Human Evolution

by G I Gurdjieff


Contents List:

Personal Development
Natural Balance
Individual Development
Evolution of Consciousness and Will

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Personal Development

The evolution of man can be taken as the development in him of those powers and possibilities which never develop by themselves, that is, mechanically. Only this kind of development, only this kind of growth, marks the real evolution of man. There is, and there can be, no other kind of evolution whatever.

We have before us man at the present moment of his development. Nature has made him such as he is and, in large masses, so far as we can see, such he will remain. Changes likely to violate the general requirements of Nature can take place only in separate units. [My emphasis. — Ed.]

In order to understand the law of man's evolution it is necessary to grasp that, beyond a certain point, this evolution is not at all necessary, that is to say, it is not necessary for Nature at a given moment in its own development. To speak more precisely: the evolution of mankind corresponds to the evolution of the planets, but the evolution of the planets proceeds, for us, in infinitely prolonged cycles of time. Throughout the stretch of time that human thought can embrace, no essential changes can take place in the life of the planets and, consequently, no essential changes can take place in the life of mankind.

Humanity neither progresses nor evolves. What seems to us to be progress or evolution is a partial modification which can be immediately counterbalanced by a corresponding modification in an opposite direction.

Humanity, like the rest of organic life, exists on Earth for the needs and purposes of the Earth. And it is exactly as it should be for the Earth's requirements at the present time.

Natural Balance

Only thought as theoretical and as far removed from fact as modern European thought could have conceived the evolution of man to be possible apart from surrounding Nature, or have regarded the evolution of man as a gradual conquest of Nature. This is quite impossible. In living, in dying, in evolving, in degenerating, man equally serves the purposes of Nature — or rather, Nature makes equal use, though perhaps for different purposes, of the products of both evolution and degeneration. And, at the same time, humanity as a whole can never escape from Nature for, even in struggling against Nature, man acts in conformity with her purposes. The evolution of a certain small percentage may be in accord with Nature's purposes. Man contains within him the possibility of evolution. But the evolution of humanity as a whole, that is, the development of these possibilities in all men, or in most of them, or even in a large number of them, is not necessary for the purposes of Earth or of the planetary world in general, and it might, in fact, be injurious or fatal. There exist, therefore, special forces (of a planetary character) which oppose the evolution of large masses of humanity and keep it at the level it ought to be.

For instance, the evolution of humanity beyond a certain point or, to speak more correctly, above a certain percentage, would be fatal for the Moon. The Moon at present feeds on organic life, on humanity. Humanity is a part of organic life; this means that humanity is food for the Moon. If all men were to become too intelligent they would not want to be eaten by the Moon.

Individual Development

But at the same time, possibilities of evolution exist, and they may be developed in separate individuals with the help of appropriate knowledge and methods. Such development can take place only in the interests of the man himself against, so to speak, the interests and forces of the planetary world. The man must understand that his evolution is necessary only to himself. No one else is interested in it. And no one is obliged or intends to help him. On the contrary, the forces which oppose the evolution of large masses also oppose the evolution of the individual man. A man must outwit them. And one man can outwit them; humanity cannot. You will understand later on that all these obstacles are very useful to a man; if they did not exist they would have to be created intentionally, because it is by overcoming obstacles that man develops those qualities he needs.

This is the basis of the correct view of human evolution. There is no compulsory, mechanical evolution. Evolution is the result of conscious struggle. Nature does not need this evolution; it does not want it and struggles against it. Evolution can be necessary only to man himself when he realises the possibility of changing his position, realises that he has powers that he does not use, riches that he does not see. And, in the sense of gaining possession of these powers and riches, evolution is possible. But if all men, or most of them, realised this and desired to obtain what belongs to them by right of birth, evolution would again become impossible. What is possible for individual man is impossible for the masses.

The advantage of the separate individual is that he is very small and that, in the economy of Nature, it makes no difference whether there is one mechanical man more or less. We can easily understand this correlation of magnitudes if we imagine the correlation between a microscopic cell and our own body. The presence or absence of one cell will change nothing in the life of the body. We cannot be conscious of it, and it can have no influence on the life and functions of the organism. In exactly the same way a separate individual is too small to influence the life of the cosmic organism to which he stands in the same relation (with regard to size) as a cell stands to our own organism. And this is precisely what makes his 'evolution' possible; on this are based his 'possibilities'.

Evolution of Consciousness and Will

In speaking of evolution it is necessary to understand from the outset that no mechanical evolution is possible. The evolution of man is the evolution of his consciousness. And 'consciousness' cannot evolve unconsciously. The evolution of man is the evolution of his will, and 'will' cannot evolve involuntarily. The evolution of man is the evolution of his power of doing, and 'doing' cannot be the result of things which just 'happen'.

People do not know what man is. They have to do with a very complex machine, far more complex than a railway engine, a motorcar, or an aeroplane — but they know nothing, or almost nothing, about the construction, working, or possibilities of this machine; they do not even understand its simplest functions, because they do not know the purpose of these functions. They vaguely imagine that a man should learn to control his machine, just as he has to learn to control a motorcar, and that incompetent handling of the human machine is just as dangerous as incompetent handling of any other complex machine. Everybody understands this in relation to a motorcar, but it is very rarely that anyone takes this into account in relation to man in general or to himself in particular. It is considered right and legitimate to think that Nature has given men the necessary knowledge of their machine. And yet men understand that an instinctive knowledge of the machine is by no means enough. Why do they study medicine and make use of its services? Because, of course, they realise they do not know their machine. But they do not suspect that it can be known much better than science knows it; they do not suspect that then it would be possible to get quite different work out of it.