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An alternative interpretation of Gurdjieff's chemical factory diagram


Copyright 2002 by Lee van Laer


Preface

This discussion of the food diagram is based on an alternative interpretation of
the way the diagram is traditionally understood. The interpretation here is based
on my own study.

At the very least, the following discussion on the evolution of hydrogens within
octaves is generally, and probably even specifically, consistent with everything
Gurdjieff said.

My own study suggests that my interpretation of the chemical factory diagram is
also consistent with what he said. It pays to take a look at the difference
between the traditional interpretation of this diagram and my own to understand
why I have chosen the approach taken here. There is one very major difference
that deserves some explanation.

Traditionally, the diagram is understood to show the intellectual center as the top
part of the diagram, the emotional center as the middle, and the moving center
as the bottom part. This is how Nicholl presents it in his Commentaries.

However, in studying what Gurdjieff said to Ouspensky in “In Search of the
Miraculous,” it is indisputably clear that Gurdjieff said that intellectual center
works with hydrogens 48, moving center with hydrogens 24, and emotional
center with hydrogens 12.1

Given that this is an established fact which is completely consistent with his
teaching on the speed of centers, it seems totally illogical that the food diagram
would locate hydrogens 12 in moving center at the bottom of the diagram. It is
equally incorrect to locate hydrogens 24 in the center of the diagram, with the
concurrent presumption that they reside in and provide energy for emotional
center. So only two possibilities exist here: either the hydrogens in a to lower
stories are all located in the wrong place in the diagram -- a rather staggering
possibility which I find difficult to believe -- or Nicholl, who otherwise had a
formidable grasp of the work, fundamentally misunderstood it.

To the best of my recollection, Gurdjieff never actually said that the bottom story
represented moving center. Not only that, even if he did, he may have
deliberately misled people in order to force them to work harder on these
questions. That would not have been atypical of him. It may also be that he did
this in order to deliberately hide certain facts about the chemical factory, or at


1 “In Search of the Miraculous, P.D. Ouspensky, Harcourt Brace & Co, 1977, pp. 193-94

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least make them much less accessible. According to anecdotes, that was quite
typical of him.

Whatever the truth may be, on the strength of the evidence, it seems reasonable
to suggest an alternative interpretation of the chemical factory diagram. (fig. 1)
This particular alternative is based logic consistent with what Gurdjieff said about
the relationship between speed of hydrogens and centers.

Based on the study that follows, you will see that new understandings may be
attained by looking at this diagram with the idea that the bottom story represents
emotional center. It creates a consistent picture that both follows and reinforces
the logic of Gurdjieff’s system. For example, moving from top to bottom, there is
a constant increase in the rate of vibration. It allows the logical addition of a
second table showing the higher centers beneath the emotional center. It also
reassigns the work of each food octave to a center that corresponds more
correctly with its nature and action.

This switch between the moving center and emotional center stories in the food
diagram has several special implications.

If we take the head as affirming, body as denying, and emotions as reconciling
forces, we will see that impressions belong to the affirming octave, entering at
the intellectual center. The head is understood as the place where the nerve
centers of this brain are located.

The air octave mediates the denying force. This octave relates to moving center
whose action is assigned to the spine and the center of the body. Logically this
would occupy the central place in the diagram.

The ordinary food octave occupies the lowest place in the diagram. Digestion
and absorption of food take place in the lower part of the abdomen, which is
where the nerve and those of the solar plexus are located. These nerve nodes
are generally understood as being the central place regulating the reconciling
forces. So the understanding of the food octave as belonging to moving center
may be a mistaken one. According to this interpretation, the food octave belongs
to emotional center.

If we examine our own reaction to the breathing of air and eating of food, I think
that our instincts alone will tell us that food is a very emotional experience. An
enormous artistic culture has grown up around food. Art is generally understood
as relating to our emotional nature. There is no such culture surrounding
breathing and air. Furthermore, I think most readers will agree that the
experience of breathing air relates more to moving center than to anything
emotional. Generally speaking, the only emotional experience most of us ever
have in relationship to breathing is the panic that results when we can do it.

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idea of taking in the world directly. It is a remarkable sensation that can change
a man’s life forever if it is experienced even once.

This has to be approached slowly over a long period of time. A broad foundation
of subsidiary hydrogens must be formed before it can begin. Opening up wide to
this kind of input can be terrifying if one is not prepared for it. Drugs such as LSD
make this possible without the right preparation by providing a mi 12 analog to
the body in the absence of all its supportive companion substances. This is why
the drug can produce both intense religious states and rank insanity.

Gurdjieff's movements are designed to assist in developing the ability to receive
impressions rightly. By creating a demand for conscious labor -- that is, active
intelligence -- in the context of actual movement and thinking tasks, they can help
open up a pathway for impressions to flow directly into the body. This assists in
both the evolution of do 48 to re 24 and mi 48 to fa 24.

This is already a much more powerful kind of work than anything we usually do in
ordinary life. These two substances -- re 24 and fa 24 -- are critical pathways to
the hydrogens 12 that cannot, at first, be created in quantity under ordinary
conditions. Everything in the organism has to change a great deal before
significant amounts of re 24 and fa 24 can begin to be created from the
conditions of ordinary life.

So we infer from this interpretation of the chemical factory diagram that all three
centers have the ability to receive impressions directly. I believe it’s fair to say
that Nicholl’s traditional interpretation of the chemical factory diagram implies
more or less the same thing. When the body and the mind cooperate in
conscious labor, that is, active intelligence, incoming impressions can be
received directly by the intellectual part of emotional center. This produces
powerful and quite unforgettable sensations. One begins to directly understand
all of one's life as food.

This is the beginning of the formation of mi 12. The sensations accompanying
the creation of mi 12 are widely misunderstood by esoteric schools which do not
understand the food diagram. Many novel and outlandish explanations for them
arise, especially among new age movements. Only by understanding the
chemical factory diagram can one correctly associate the unusual physical and,
in some cases, psychic experiences which accompany the creation of higher
substances.


The three food octaves

Each story of man -- that is each center -- has a corresponding octave of food it
is responsible for.

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Let us take emotional center. The slowest hydrogen that man ingests-- do 768 of
the food octave -- is handled by the fastest center. This is because ordinary food
has the furthest distance to go and needs the greatest amount of acceleration in
order to reach the full extent of its evolution into si 12. As was pointed out
before, the most capable center we have is given this absolutely vital task,
because it is biologically necessary for both the preservation of the organism and
sexual reproduction.

We can contrast this with intellectual center, which is the slowest center handling
the highest rate of vibration that begins an octave -- that is, do 48 of the
impressions octave. Do 48 has much less distance to travel in its evolution to me
12, so locating it within the octave belonging to intellectual center does not limit it.
In addition, because this food is so much more powerful, the body is designed so
that it generally enters through a much narrower pathway. This allows a great
deal more control over its arrival. Buffers erected around intellectual center
further slow its arrival to keep it down to a trickle under ordinary circumstances.
This food is so much higher than ordinary food that there are dangers if it arrives
too fast or into great an amount before supporting hydrogens are in place.

Moving center's octave, which in this interpretation is the air octave, meets the
arriving food with a substance four times faster than do 768 – do 192.

The moving center octave is where Gurdjieff concentrated a great deal of his
work. There are good reasons for this. The moving/air octave is responsible for
the creation of la 6, which is the only hydrogen of speed 6 found in a lower
center. The other two hydrogens of speed 6, which are created by the second
conscious shock from mi 12 and sol 12, belonging to higher emotional center.

Perhaps I should note here that Gurdjieff says higher emotional center works
with mi 12 and si 12, as noted in footnote 5. I think that what he means is that
only higher emotional center can provide the energy for intentional suffering,
which transmutes mi 12 and si 12 -- which belong to lower emotional center in
the chemical factory diagram -- into fa 6 and do 6, which are at a higher rate of
vibration that would more correctly correspond to higher emotional center.

In my opinion, this understanding supports the idea that the energy needed for
the two conscious shocks is provided from a higher level. This energy belongs to
the law of three, as can be clearly seen in Gurdjieff's enneagram. It interacts
with, but is quite distinct from, the law of 7 energy that evolves within any given
octave.

Not only does la 6 provide the energy for much higher work-- four times faster--
in intellectual center, which is where it resides once created, it also provides the
linking hydrogen that connects hydrogens 6 in higher emotional center to our
lower intellectual center. When higher emotional center speaks to us, it does so
because sufficient la 6 is present to mediate it.

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