Lecture 04 — Wrong Functions

by P D Ouspensky


Contents List:

Four States of Consciousness
Self-awareness
New Functions Acquired
Instinctive Functions
Lying
Verification
Four Minds
Imagination
Emotions
Relative Speeds of Functions
Identification
Prison

Return to:

"Campus"

See also:

Remembering Oneself


Four States of Consciousness

We are made in such a way that we can live in four states of consciousness, but such as we are we use only two: one when we are asleep, and the other when we are what we call 'awake' — that is to say, in this present state, when we can talk, listen, read, write, and so on.

But these are only two out of four possible states. The third state of consciousness is very strange. If people explain to us what the third state of consciousness is, we begin to think that we have it. The third state can be called self-consciousness, and most people, if asked, say, 'Certainly we are conscious!'. A sufficient time spent in repeated and frequent efforts of self-observation is necessary before we really recognise the fact that we are not conscious; that we are conscious only potentially. If we are asked, we say, 'Yes, I am', and for that moment we are; but the next moment we cease to remember and are not conscious. So in the process of self-observation we realise that we are not in the third state of consciousness, that we live only in two. We live either in sleep or in a waking state which, in the system, is called relative consciousness. The fourth state, which is called objective consciousness, is inaccessible to us because it can be reached only through self-consciousness — that is, by becoming aware of oneself first, so that much later we may manage to reach the objective state of consciousness.

Self-awareness

So, at the same time as self-observing, we try to be aware of ourselves by holding the sensation of 'I am here' — nothing more. And this is the fact that all Western psychology, without the smallest exception, has missed. Although many people came very near to it, they did not recognise the importance of this fact and did not realise that the state of man as he is can be changed — that man can remember himself, if he tries for a long time.

Remembering oneself is not the same as observation. It means the same thing as to be aware of oneself — 'I am'. Sometimes it comes by itself, and is a very strange sensation. It is not a function, not feeling; it is a different state of consciousness. By itself it comes only for very short moments, generally in quite new surroundings, and one says to oneself: 'How strange! I am here.' At such a moment, you are remembering yourself.

Later, when you begin to distinguish these moments, you reach another interesting conclusion: you realise that what you remember from childhood are only glimpses of self-remembering, because all you know of ordinary moments is that things have happened. You know you were there, but you do not remember anything exactly; but if this flash happens, then you remember all that surrounded this moment.

Learning to remember oneself is not a question of a day or a month. It is a very long study, and a study of how to remove obstacles, because we do not remember ourselves, we are not conscious of ourselves, owing to many wrong functions in our machine; and all these functions have to be corrected and put right. When most of these functions are put right, these periods of self-remembering will become longer and longer; and if they become sufficiently long, we shall acquire two new functions.

New Functions Acquired

With self-consciousness, which is the third state of consciousness, we acquire a function which is called higher emotional, although it is equally intellectual, because on this level there is no difference between intellectual and emotional such as there is on the ordinary level. And when we come to the state of objective consciousness we acquire another function which is called higher mental.

Phenomena of what I call super-normal psychology belong to these two functions; and this is why, when I made those experiments twenty-five years ago, I came to the conclusion that experimental work is impossible — because it is not a question of experiment but of changing one's state of consciousness.

At the same time you must realise that, because of the many wrong functions, our machine works far from perfectly. A very important part of self-study is concerned with these wrong functions. We must know them in order to eliminate them.

Instinctive Functions

Inner instinctive work does not need to become conscious. It is conscious for itself, independently of the intellectual function, and there is no need to increase this. We must try to become conscious of ourselves as we see ourselves, not of our inner functions. After some time we may become aware of certain inner functions of which it is useful to be aware, but not yet. We do not acquire any new feelings. We only classify better the ordinary impressions we get from life, from people, from everything.

Lying

Studying man in his present state of sleep, absence of unity, mechanicalness, and lack of control, we find several other wrong functions which are the result of his state — in particular lying to himself and to other people all the time. The psychology of ordinary man could even be called the study of lying, because man lies more than anything else; and as a matter of fact he cannot speak the truth. It is not so simple to speak the truth: one has to learn how to do it, and sometimes it takes a very long time.

Lying is thinking or speaking about things that one does not know; that is the beginning of lying. It does not mean intentional lying — telling stories as, for instance, that there is a bear in the next room. You can go to the other room and see that there is no bear in it. But if you collect all the theories that people put forward on any given subject without knowing anything about it, you will see where lying begins. Man does not know himself, he does not know anything, yet he has theories about everything. Most of these theories are lying.

Verification

There is no question of faith or belief in all this — quite the opposite. This system teaches people to believe in absolutely nothing. You must verify everything that you see, hear, and feel. Only in that way can you come to something.

For almost everything you know, you have methods for verifying. But first you must know what you can know and what you cannot. That helps verifying. If you start with that you will soon hear lies, even without thinking. Lies have a very different sound, particularly lies about things we cannot know.

Just observe, without any guessing, and observe only what you can see. For a long time you just have to observe and try to find out what you can about intellectual, emotional, instinctive, and moving functions.

Four Minds

From this you may come to the conclusion that you have not just one mind but four definite minds. One mind controls intellectual functions; another quite different mind controls emotional functions; a third controls instinctive functions; and a fourth, again quite different, controls moving functions. We call them centres: intellectual centre, emotional centre, moving centre, and instinctive centre. They are quite independent. Each centre has its own memory, its own imagination, and its own will.

One can know this and desires can still be in conflict, because each desire represents a different will. What we call our "will" in the ordinary sense is only the resultant of desires. The resultant sometimes reaches a definite line of action and at other times cannot reach any definite line because one desire goes one way and another leans another way, and we cannot decide what to do. This is our usual state. Certainly our future aim must be to come to oneness instead of being many, as we are now, because in order to do anything rightly, to know anything rightly, to arrive anywhere, we must become one. It is a very far aim, and we cannot begin to approach it until we know ourselves, because, in the state in which we are now, our ignorance of ourselves is such that when we see it we begin to be terrified that we may not find our way anywhere.

The human being is a very complicated machine and has to be studied as a machine. We realise that in order to control any kind of machine, such as a car or a computer, we first have to learn. We cannot control machines instinctively, but for some reason we think that ordinary instinct is sufficient to control the human machine, although it is so much more complicated than any man-made machine. This is one of the first wrong assumptions: we do not realise that we have to learn, that control is a question of knowledge and skills.

Imagination

One of the particularly wrong functions, which we sometimes like in ourselves, is imagination. In this system 'imagination' does not mean conscious or intentional thinking on some subject, or visualisation of something, but imagination that turns without any control and without any result — as in ordinary day-dreams or imagining non-existent powers in oneself. This takes very much energy and turns thinking in a wrong direction.

The most important factor in every function is: 'Is it under our control or not?' So when imagination is under our control we do not even call it imagination; we call it by various names — visualisation, creative thinking, inventive thinking — you can find a name for each special case. But when it comes by itself and controls us so that we are in its power, then we call it imagination.

Again, there is another side to imagination that we miss in ordinary understanding. This is that we imagine non-existent things — non-existent capacities, for instance. We ascribe to ourselves powers we do not have; we imagine ourselves to be self-conscious although we are not. We have imaginary powers and imaginary self-consciousness and we imagine ourselves to be one, when really we are many different 'I's. There are many such things that we imagine about ourselves and other people. For instance, we imagine that we can 'do', that we have choice; we have no choice, we cannot 'do'; things just happen to us.

So we imagine ourselves, really. We are not what we imagine ourselves to be.

If you cannot control day-dreaming, it means that it is part of imagination — but not all of it. Imagination has many different sides. We imagine non-existent states, possibilities, powers. We also imagine all kinds of unpleasant things, torturing ourselves with painful things that might happen to oneself or other people. Some people imagine different illnesses, some imagine accidents, others imagine misfortunes.

Emotions

Control of emotions is very difficult and is therefore a very important part of self-study because we do not understand enough about emotions to be able to control them.

What we can do from the very beginning of observing the emotional function is try to stop one particular manifestation in ourselves. We must try to stop the manifestation of unpleasant emotions. For many people, this is one of the most difficult things, because unpleasant emotions are expressed so quickly and so easily that you cannot catch them. Yet unless you try, you cannot really observe yourself; so from the very beginning, when observing emotions, you must try to stop the expression of unpleasant emotions. This is the first step. In this system we call all these unpleasant, violent, or depressing emotions by the name of negative emotions.

The first step is trying not to express these negative emotions; the second step is the study of negative emotions themselves, making lists of them, finding their connections — because some of them are simple and some are compound — and trying to understand that they are not obligatory. Here the system helps because it shows that in fact there is no real centre for negative emotions, but that they belong to an artificial centre in us, which we create in childhood by imitating people with negative emotions by whom we are surrounded. People even teach children to express negative emotions. Then children learn still more by imitation; they imitate older children, older children imitate grown-up people, and so at a very early age they become professors of negative emotions.

It is a great liberation when we begin to understand that there are no obligatory negative emotions. We are born without them, but for some unknown reason, we teach them to ourselves.

As we are now, real struggle with negative emotions is a question of the future — not a very far future, but there are many things we need to know first and methods which we must study. There is no direct way; we must learn roundabout methods of how to attack them.

First of all we have to change many of our mental attitudes, which are more or less in our power: I mean intellectual attitudes or points of view. We have too many wrong points of view about negative emotions; we find them necessary, or beautiful, or noble; we glorify them, and so on. We must get rid of all that. We have to clean our mind in relation to negative emotions. Then, little by little, we shall find a way to struggle with each of them separately, beginning with the easiest.

Relative Speeds of Functions

Different functions operate at different speeds. The slowest is the intellectual function. Next come moving and instinctive functions which have an approximately equal speed which is enormously quicker than the intellectual. The emotional function should be still quicker, but generally works at about the same speed as the instinctive function. So moving, instinctive, and emotional functions are very much quicker than thought, and it is impossible to catch emotions by thought. When we are in an emotional state, emotions succeed each other so quickly that we have no time to think. But we can get an idea of the difference in speed by comparing thinking functions with moving functions. If, doing some quick movement, you try to observe yourself, you will see that you cannot. Thought cannot follow movement. Either you have to make the movement quite slow or you cannot observe. This is a definite fact.

Identification

When we begin to observe our functions, particularly emotions, we find that all our functions are accompanied by a certain attitude; we become too absorbed in things, too lost in things, particularly when the slightest emotional element appears. This is called identification. The idea of identification exists in Indian writings, where it is spoken of as attachment.

Identification begins with interest. You are interested in something, and the next moment you are in it, and for the time being you no longer exist independently of it and the associated emotion. For instance, some people are very proud of their irritability; they like to be thought very hard. There is practically no emotion you cannot enjoy, and that is the most difficult thing to realise. Some people get all their pleasure from negative emotions.

In relation to people, identification takes a special form which in this system is called considering. But considering can be of two kinds — when we consider other people's feelings, and when we consider our own. Chiefly, we consider our own feelings. We consider mostly in the sense that people do not value us enough or do not think about us enough, or are not careful enough about us. We find many words for that. This is a very important facet of identification, and it is very difficult to get free from it. Some people are fully in its power. So it is important to observe considering.

Prison

When we try to keep all these things in mind and to observe ourselves, we come to the very definite conclusion that in our present state of consciousness with all this identification, considering, negative emotions, and absence of self-remembering, we are really asleep. We only imagine that we are awake. So when we try to remember ourselves it means only that we try to awaken. And we do awaken for a second, but then we fall asleep again. This is our normal state of being. We can awaken only if we correct many things in our machine and if we work very persistently and for a long time on this idea of awakening.

A group I met in Moscow used the analogy of prison. The ordinary man is in prison, so what can he desire or wish for? If he is a more or less sensible man, he can wish for only one thing — to escape. But first he must become aware that he is in prison. If he does not realise that he is in prison, he cannot wish to escape. Then, when he formulates this wish, he begins to realise the possibilities of escape and he understands that, by himself, he cannot escape and that he needs help. He realises that first of all he must have some people who would like to escape with him — a small group of people, because not all can escape. One cannot, and all cannot, but a small group of people can. He also comes to the conclusion that his small group needs help from outside the prison, from people who have already escaped.

This is almost literally the position of man. We can learn to use the unused parts of our machine. The prison means really that we sit in the kitchen and basement of our house and cannot get out. One can get out, but not by oneself. A school is necessary. School means that there are people who are already escaping or, at any rate, are preparing to escape. School cannot begin without help from another school, without help from those who have escaped before. From them we can get certain ideas, a certain plan, a certain knowledge — these are our tools. But all cannot escape. There are very many laws against it. It would be too noticeable, and that would immediately produce a reaction from mechanical forces.

The wish to escape is not instinctive. It must be intellectual and emotional, because the instinctive function really belongs to the lower, the physical functions. To realise that we are in prison and that it is possible to escape needs reason and feeling.