Gathering 6

GatheringVI Reports? - For reports from attendees.


John Bennett’s systematics was mostly inspired by Gurdjieff’s teachings.

The original title of Gurdjieff’s Beelzebub Tales may have been all of everything. It attempted – to use modern jargon - a total systems approach of inclusivity and structure. Only the Whole of wholes makes sense, but there is also another aspect because everything makes sense in terms of everything else. These are the two principles espoused in the book on the theme of world creation and world maintenance: autoegocrat and trogoautoegocrat. For the most part, readers respond to the first which becomes linked to vistas of top-down Platonic emanation and ignore the second with its implications of complexity, uncertainty and lateral co-operation. While the first gives us a picture of simple ‘laws’ governing everything, the second gives us a picture of ‘laws’ mixed together and generating sub-laws, which may not equally apply to everything.

The emanationist picture is genetic in the sense that first something happens or acts, then from this something happens or acts, and so on with a ‘generative logic’. The originating principle becomes weaker at each step. The traditional view is mirrored in the modern big-bang picture, where the start is infinitesimal in extent while being at highest intensity, leading to an expansion at lower and lower temperatures and higher and higher complexity. The succeeding layers are ‘weaker’ but also ‘bigger’ in another. The loss of inner coherence is compensated by gain of lateral connections.

There is a principle of mutual translation between the intensive and extensive dimensions of structures. This dyadic interplay is reflected in all manner of mutual translations as between ‘thinking and feeling’, ‘conscious and unconscious’ and so on.

The model can be projected into terms of number, and the essence of the successive moves of creation is most clearly evident in the scheme of systematics developed by John Bennett. According to this scheme, the movement goes from 1 to 2 to 3 and so on where these integral numbers stand for systems of corresponding complexity. In the one term system or monad, because there is only one term there are no ‘mutual effects’ of terms. In the two term system or dyad, there is one mutual effect. In the three term system there are three such effects and in the four term system or tetrad there are no less than six. The number of ‘mutual effects’ rapidly goes up at increasing rate. We can easily see that very soon the number of mutual effects exceeds the number of terms of the system.

The progression of the systems can be viewed cosmically as first there being just one universe or whole and then two, then three and so on. An image of this is given here.

The picture of unfolding and realizing multiple levels of form can be articulated by ‘reconstructability analysis’, which is a mathematical method of bringing out the potential of any number system. This method is approximated by partition theory in which we take a number and find out how many ways it can be composed. For example 4 = 1 + 3 = 2 + 2 = 1 + 1 + 2 = 1 + 1 + 1 +1, so there are five ‘partitions’.

The picture here of form and matter comes from Scholasticism, but it can also be expressed as form and content. Content unfolds by association while form unfolds by structuring. Association is connected with speaking while form is connected with visualization. The distinguishing of form and content, enabling us to process each of them independently, was followed up by Bennett in his idea of structural communication. It is crucial to the practice of systematics. *

To be thrown into the pot is also the enigmatic ‘statement of esotericism’, attributed to Gurdjieff.

To know means to know all Not to know all means not to know To know all It is only necessary to know a little But to know this little it is first necessary To know pretty much

This is a statement of esotericism because it says that there is a little – a key – that can unlock something very large. This so happens to be the way that David Bohm looked at active information. In simple terms, some information is worth more than others. It makes the idea of a ‘secret’ objective.

With the top-down autoegocratic principle, we have all of traditional cosmologies/cosmogonies. The trogoautoegocratic principle takes us from Anaxagoras’ ‘There is a little of everything in everything’ to say that everything has something of its own laws, which are shared with other things. The idea is then that everything generates its own laws, which are then shared. The contingencies of origins lead to diverse patterns.

This approach is allied with the view that the so-called ‘laws’ of the universe are not immutable but develop as the universe evolves. This was the attitude of Peirce, for example and is an idea that is being entertained by a few contemporary physicists.

Another way is to know form is by way of ‘insignia’ or secrets. In this approach, we believe that there are communications from some higher intelligence that enable us to unlock vast areas of meaning. This can be felt as ‘knowing the mind of God’ or some such transcendental reality. Included in this belief is the sense of each of us as having a unique ‘signature’ that is given to us to unlock our own destiny.

There are parallels with the work of Jung on archetypes and the idea of the individual and collective unconscious. The influence of archetypes is taken, in Jungian analysis, as essential for individuation. It might also be seen as essential for the mutual understanding of people working in groups and societies.

The ‘unconscious’ can be taken to include the realm of form in general, since, for the most part, we are not aware of the forms that influence our conscious thinking. The unconscious forms are the primitive origins that resonate with ideas of the origin of the universe.

THE REALIZATION OF WHAT SYSTEMATICS MEANS – Systematics in the 21st century

We have laboured over many years to stretch the envelope, yet have not really come to terms with what we can actually do with systematics. This is not to deny the work done by you in various fields with good results. It is a matter of coming to realize what our practice means, which is to:

  1. Make it more conscious
  2. Relate it to our own destiny and purpose
  3. Relate it to the efforts of other people
  4. Improve on what we are able to do
  5. Produce new forms of structural thinking

We would need to look at what feeds into systematics and what it produces.

We would need to deeply understand its limitations.

We would need to entertain the possibility that there are other levels and forms of systematics than the ones we know.

I suggest we use Gathering VI to include looking at systematics as:

  • Art
  • Science
  • Religion
  • Politics
  • Management
  • Games
  • Self-realization

Another dimension is to examine systematics as:

  • A way of organizing knowledge
  • A way of making meaning
  • A way of meditation

In Gathering VI, we offer a ‘mature reflection’ on systematics, showing how some recent developments in information science and allied subjects reveal its deeper levels.

We will also look at Bennett’s early proposition that systematics moves towards the structure of will, particularly by exploring the articulation of purpose, which has immediate relevance to what has been called ‘practical’ systematics.

We will play some games, find alternative logics and enjoy each other’s company. Participants are free to offer experiences based on their particular expertise to the group, but also strongly invited to come with their insights and questions.


Three main concepts are being offered.

1. Hyperstructure

‘Hyperstructure’ is a new buzz-word that signifies what John Bennett called ‘organized complexity’. It is also tied in with ‘hyper-media’ and has grown out of the invention of hypertext. The root point is that we have information that is of various kinds, located in various places, connected by various people and accessible in various forms.

We have been dealing with ‘flattened’ information in the sense that (a) it is of one kind, usually verbal, (b) it is displayed on a flat surface and (c) done by single individuals. Most standard practice ‘flattens’ even more because it becomes just lists or texts.

2. System-Superimposition

Quantum computers are based on ‘superimposed states’, e.g. the dyadic either/or states of 0 and 1 can be superimposed to allow for a vast number of intermediate states (thus making quantum computing vastly more powerful in principle than standard computing in which 0 and 1 are distinct separate states). This has implications for systematics. As Bennett pointed out in his first presentation of systematics, the separate number-term systems are the most abstract representations of organization we can deal with usefully. Combining this with Gurdjieff’s notion of ‘inner octaves’ and the potential of quantum computing we arrive at the notion of the ‘quantum in-between’, that ‘between’ each pair of systems there is a transfinite realm of structure.

An allied proposition is that all creative advance has taken place between systems and not in them. Inherent but deeply hidden in the idea of progression of systems has been this realm of the in-between or the superimposed.

3. Meaning Games

These have emerged in and been touched upon in past Gatherings. It is proposed that all attempts to bring systematics into business, for example, involve the invention of meaning games; also that making such games more articulate can enable new forms to be discovered.

The three roles of facilitator, structure and dialogue can be understood in terms of meaning games. We can examine meaning games in education, management and creative play. We can also extend this into looking at religion as a meaning game.

There is a generic meaning game in which the poles of individual free spontaneity and agreed collective structure coincide. This is reflected for example in the underlying methodology of psychoanalysis as based on free association and amplification.


The thing is this. Systematics is an extreme case of separating a form from a diversity of content.

In ordinary life, we don’t do this separation. I then suggest (as I think JGB did) that this then makes it hard to understand each other: when we come to read what someone else says we will be using – consciously or, as is more usual, unconsciously – our own form. Therefore, intrinsic in the process will be a clash of two forms.

It is quite rare still for anyone to look into their thinking and writing and uncover what the operating forms are. This is not only rare to do, but it then is only a beginning because in order to give expression to these forms one has to call on imagery, patterns, numbers, whatever (more or less the stuff of symbols) and also realize that the forms one ‘has’ are always in some way peculiar to you. Only if you have a feeling of there being underlying forms in your thinking and writing will this make any sense to you.

One might imagine great thinkers delving into themselves to discover forms and then bring them out for others to see as quasi-objects. Bennett did this with his systems. In bringing them out into talks and books, he had to clothe them in some way. This ‘clothing’ I sometimes refer to as ‘drawing’ them. So I both speak my thoughts and then can also draw them. I have to hope that you can imagine and feel what I might mean – which you will, of course, do in your own way.

I would say that everyone has a wisdom about something that would enable them to bring out forms.

If one does this sort of thing, which is just to write something or take something one has expressed (or even read) and then ‘draw’ (another kind of writing or expression) the forms one resolves into view, then such forms become another kind of writing or thinking. You can be vastly boosted in your quest for understanding. Awareness and expression of forms leads into greater depth. At the same time, you will be exposed to others – your very thoughts will be more naked! The action is developmental and will not suit those who are fixated and want to reject contrary views and believe themselves right.

Anyway, one can just do this for a region of knowledge in a very external way or get into it in a more integral and personal way. You can do it by ‘systems’ or colours or whatever. The actual discovery by oneself of underlying forms – no matter how crude they might first appear – is liberating and a beginning of being able to dialogue with others. Why so? Because dialogue only works in fact if the participants can have some awareness of their forms of thought, which are the bases for their sense of meaning; because at the very least a participant must realize that there are such forms at work and that they will not be the same for others.

The point is:

  • First to separate forms out from content
  • Second to relate such forms to the paradigm of systems (without any need to equate but as point of reference)
  • There are many other aspects, stages but these two are the essentials – the rest is doing