talks with gurdjieff
george ivanovich gurdjieff (1866-1949)

formatory apparatus
prieuré, january 29, 1923

i have understood from conversations that people have a wrong idea about one of the centers, and this wrong idea creates many difficulties.

it is about the thinking center, that is, our formatory apparatus. all the stimuli coming from the centers are transmitted to the formatory apparatus, and all the perceptions of centers also are manifested through the formatory apparatus. it is not a center but an apparatus. it is connected with all the centers. in their turn, centers are connected with one another, but these connections are of a special kind. there is a certain degree of subjectivity, a measure of the strength of associations, which determines the possibility of intercommunication between centers. if we take vibrations between 10 and 10,000, then within this range there are many gradations divided into the definite degrees of strength of associations required for each center. only associations of a certain strength in one center evoke corresponding associations in another; only then can a stimulus be given to corresponding connections in another center.

in the formatory apparatus connections with centers are more sensitive, because all associations reach it. every local stimulus in the centers, every association, provokes associations in the formatory apparatus.

in the case of connections between centers, their sensitivity is determined by a certain degree of subjectivity. only if the stimulus is strong enough can a corresponding roll (footnote: or tape) in another center be brought into motion. this can happen only with a very strong stimulus of a particular velocity, the rate of which has already become established in you.

the working arrangements of all these centers are alike. each one includes a great many smaller ones. each smaller one is designed for a specific kind of work. so all these centers are alike as to structure, but their essence is different. the four centers are composed of matter which is animate, but the matter of the formatory apparatus is inanimate. the formatory apparatus is simply a machine, just like a typewriter which transmits every impact.

the best way for me to illustrate the formatory apparatus is by an analogy. it is an office with a typist. every incoming paper comes to her, every client who comes in addresses himself to her. she replies to everything. the answers she gives are qualified by the fact that, in herself, she is only an employee, she does not know anything. but she has instructions, books, files and dictionaries on the shelves. if she has the wherewithal to look up some particular information she does so and replies accordingly; if she hasn't, she does not answer.

this factory also has four partners who sit in four different rooms. these partners communicate with the outside world through her. they are connected with her office by telephone. if one of them phones to her and says something, she has to pass it on further. now each of the four directors has a different code. suppose one of them sends her something to be transmitted exactly. since the message is in code, she cannot pass it on as it is, for a code is something arbitrarily agreed upon. she has in her office a quantity of stereotypes, forms, and signs, which have accumulated over the years. according to whom she is in contact with, she consults a book, decodes and transmits.

if the partners want to talk to each other there is no means of communication between them. they are connected by telephone, but this telephone can work only in good weather and in such conditions of calm and quiet as seldom occur. since such conditions are rare, they send messages through the central exchange, that is, the office. since each one has his own code, it is the typist's job to decode and recode these messages. consequently the decoding depends on this employee who has no interest or concern in the business. as soon as the daily grind is over she goes home. her decoding depends on how well she is educated; typists can be of different education. one may be a fool, another may be a good business woman. there is an established routine in the office and the typist acts according to it. if she needs a certain code, she has to bring out one or another stereotype, so she uses whichever of the more frequently used stereotypes happens to be handy.

this office is a modern one and has a number of mechanical appliances, so the typist's work is very easy. she is very rarely obliged to use a typewriter. there are all sorts of inventions, both mechanical and semi-mechanical; for every kind of inquiry there are ready-made labels which are immediately affixed.

then of course there is the almost chronic character of all typists. usually they are young girls of a romantic disposition who spend their time reading novels and dealing with their personal correspondence. a typist is usually coquettish. she constantly looks at herself in the mirror, powders her face and busies herself with her own affairs, for her bosses are seldom there. often she does not catch exactly what is said, but absentmindedly presses the wrong button which brings out one stereotype instead of another. what does she care—the directors come so seldom!

just as the directors communicate with each other through her, so they do with people outside. everything that comes in or goes out has to be decoded and recoded. it is her job to decode and recode all communications between the directors, and then forward them to their destination. it is the same with all incoming correspondence: if it is addressed to one of the directors, it is forwarded by her in the appropriate code. however, she often makes mistakes and sends something in the wrong code to one of them. he gets it and understands nothing. this is an approximate picture of the state of affairs.

this office is our formatory apparatus, and the typist represents our education, our automatically mechanical views, local clichés, theories and opinions that have been formed in us. the typist has nothing in common with the centers, and indeed not even with the formatory apparatus. but she works there, and i have explained to you what this girl means. education has nothing to do with centers. a child is brought up thus: "if someone is shaking hands with you, you must always stand like this." all this is purely mechanical—in this case, you must do that. and once established so it remains. an adult is the same. if someone treads on his corn he reacts always in the same manner. adults are like children, and children are like adults: all of them react. the machine works and will go on working in the same way a thousand years hence.

with time a great quantity of labels accumulates on the office shelves. the longer a man lives, the more labels there are in the office. it is so arranged that all labels of a similar kind are kept in one cupboard. so when an inquiry comes in, the typist begins to search for a suitable label. to do this she must take them out, look through and sort them until she finds the right one. a great deal depends on the tidiness of the typist and in what state she keeps her files of labels. some typists are methodical; others not so methodical. some keep them sorted out, others don't. one may put an incoming inquiry in a wrong drawer, others not. one finds a label at once, another looks for a long time and mixes them all up while searching.

our so-called thoughts are nothing more than these labels taken out of the cupboard. what we call thoughts are not thoughts, we have no thoughts: we have different labels, short, abbreviated, long—but nothing except labels. these labels are shifted from one place to another. inquiries coming from outside are what we receive as impressions. these manifestations, inquiries, come not only from without but also from different places within. all this has to be recorded.

all this chaos is what we call our thoughts and associations. at the same time a man does have thoughts. every center thinks. these thoughts, if there are any and if they reach the formatory apparatus, reach it only in the form of stimuli and are then reconstructed, but the reconstruction is mechanical. and this is so in the best cases, for as a rule some centers have hardly any means of communicating with the formatory apparatus. owing to faulty connections, messages are either not transmitted at all or are transmitted in distorted form. but this does not prove the absence of thought. in all centers work goes on, there are thoughts and associations, but they do not reach the formatory apparatus and so are not manifested. neither are they sent on in another direction—that is, from the formatory apparatus to the centers—and for the same reason they cannot get there from outside.

everyone has centers; the difference lies only in the amount of material they contain. some have more, others less. everyone has some, the difference is only in the quantity. but the centers are the same in everyone.

a man is born like an empty cupboard or storehouse. then material begins to accumulate. the machine works alike in everyone; the properties of the centers are the same, but, owing to their nature and the conditions of life, the links, the connections between centers, differ in degrees of sensitivity, coarseness or fineness.

the most primitive and most accessible is the connection between the moving center and the formatory apparatus. this connection is the coarsest, the most "audible," the speediest, thickest and best. it is like a large pipe (i mean here not the center itself but the connection). it is the quickest to form, and the quickest to be filled. the second is considered to be the connection with the sex center. the third—the connection with the emotional center. the fourth—the connection with the thinking center.

so the amount of material and the degree of functioning of these connections stand in this gradation. the first connection exists and functions in all men; associations are received and manifested. the second connection, the one with the sex center, exists in the majority of men. consequently most people live with the first and second centers—their whole life, all their perceptions and manifestations come from these centers and originate in them. people whose emotional center is connected with the formatory apparatus are in the minority, and in their case all their life and manifestations proceed through it. but there is hardly anyone in whom the connection with the thinking center works.

if a man's manifestations in life are to be classified according to their quality and cause, we find the following proportion: 50 percent of his vital manifestations and perceptions belong to the moving center, 40 percent to the sex center and 10 percent to the emotional center. yet at a superficial glance we are accustomed to attach a high value to these manifestations of the emotional center and give high-sounding names to their comings and goings, allotting a lofty place to them.

anyway, we have so far been speaking of the situation at its best. with us things are still worse. if the thinking center is of quality No. 1; the emotional, quality No. 2; the sex center, quality No. 3; and the moving, quality No. 4, then at best we have very little of the second quality, more of the third quality and a lot of the fourth quality, taking it from the point of view of true value. in actual fact, however, over 75 percent of our vital manifestations and perceptions take place with no connection whatever, entirely through this hired employee who, when she goes out, leaves behind only a machine.

i began with one thing and ended by speaking of another. let us return to what i meant to say about the formatory apparatus.

for some reason those who come to lectures call it also a center. but in order to understand what follows it is necessary to make clear that it is not a center. it is simply a certain organ, although it too is in the brain. both in its matter and its structure it is completely different from what we call an animate center. these animate centers, if we take them singly, are in themselves animals and they live like corresponding animals. this one is the brain of a worm; that one the first brain of a sheep. there are animals which have something similar. here brains of different degrees of fineness are collected together in one. there exist one-brained organizations and two-brained organizations. so that each one of these brains in an individual organization acts as a moving factor—as a soul. they are independent. even if they live in one and the same place, they can and do exist independently. each has its own properties. some people live animated now by one, now by another. each brain has a definite, independent, specific existence. in short, according to the quality of its matter, each can be called an individual entity, a soul.

cohesion, existence, has its own laws. from the point of view of its materiality, in accordance with the law of cohesion, the formatory apparatus is an organism. in the centers, life, associations, influence and existence are psychical, whereas in the formatory apparatus all its properties, qualities, its existence, are organic.

(injury, sickness, treatment of sickness, disharmony are physical. effect, cause, quality, state, change are psychical.)

to those who have heard about densities of intelligence i can say that the sex center and the moving center have a corresponding density of intelligence, whereas the formatory apparatus does not have this property. the action of these centers and their reaction are both psychical, whereas in the formatory apparatus they are both material. consequently our thinking, our so-called thoughts—if the cause and effect of this thinking lie in the formatory apparatus—are material. no matter how highly varied our thinking may be, no matter what label it bears, what guise it assumes, what high-sounding name it has, the value of this thinking is simply material. and material things are, for instance, bread, coffee, the fact that someone has trodden on my corn, looking sideways or straight, scratching my back, and so on. if this material, such as pain in the corn, etc., were absent, there would be no thinking.