Brain Systems

Most of our papers note a reference to Brain Systems. Some refer outrightly to specific concepts that appear in that paper. Others refer, cryptically, to the use of nomenclature originating in Brain Systems. For these reasons, we've decided to provide the full text of the original Brain Systems paper.

Some Inevitable Questions

Why has Brain Systems become so central? Most of the papers listed for sale on this web site note a reference to Brain Systems as they are described in their summary. Some refer outrightly to specific concepts which appear in that paper. Others refer, cryptically, to the use of nomenclature originating in that paper.

Why has something like this been introduced within the context of a web site with its stated focus on Fourth Way ideas? Perhaps the whole affair is no more than the pathetic tatter of an old man obsessed with this certain topic, a last, desperate attempt for importance or, even, relevance as he delves into something that neither Mr. Ouspensky nor Mr. Gurdjieff ever intended to become so serious. After all, the sheer number of topics held in Mr. Gurdjieff's lectures is legend to the well read. Apparently every single one of them has the essential materiality to have become an alternate point of concentration for this old man.

A Little History

A certain Fourth Way class in San Diego was comprised, coincidentally, of young students. All were between eighteen and twenty-one years. As that school approached its work on centers, and especially, on the process of recording attention, it became clear that a written accessory to the material in Mr. Gurdjieff's lectures would be helpful.

Having completely accepted this additional task and having begun in a sincere way to create this "extra material" about centers, the paper was begun. Only then did these uninhibited young students began to ask a number of troubling questions. Having set the creation of this paper, the first such undertaking of any magnitude in this school, as an aim, these disrespectful questions quickly actualized themselves into an unanticipated consequence, not for the overall intention of the paper, but very directly on its scope. A nicely scheduled discussion of Mr. Gurdjieff's and Mr. Ouspensky's lectures on the subject would fall short of the robust understanding these energetic young students expected.

It was decided that the project of this paper would be quickly expanded to address these questions of theirs. All that was simple enough for a dedicated Fourth Way teacher, but in no time calamity struck. These "rotten little questions" were not going to be answered with a bit of clever research and a few passive, incomprehensible hypotheses, employed as clever distractions. This Fourth Way teacher was jerked unceremoniously away from his typewriter and cast into an abyss where he was forced to consider all types of new thoughts. He had already inspired in these students a real determination to enjoy the benefits of recording attention, and now he would "pay the piper."

The Questions of the Young Students

Both Mr. Ouspensky and Mr. Gurdjieff had provided descriptions of certain centers and their corresponding actions. Additionally, the idea of five centers, each divided into three more specific categories of action, and, in fact, each of these fifteen entities also divided into three similar, yet more resolved components, ad nauseam, was a very clear statement that there existed many more than the centers and sections of centers which were discussed in Fourth Way literature. What was the nature and purpose of those not included in these descriptions? How would the student work at recording attention with only this "bit of the full palette?"

A decision was made that the fifteen elements of the lower centers would comprise the limit of this now, very out-of-control paper. Everything that could be used was scoured from In Search of the Miraculous, The Psychology of Man's Possible Evolution, and authors such as Kathleen Speeth and Helen Palmer, and others. Beelzebub's Tales to His Grandson contributed. There were honest contradictions and other paradoxes.

As this more complete model of the idea of centers began to take form, it became clear that some additional structures of a similar nature would be required to fully explain a more complete environment of its working process to these bothersome students. New concepts were added as they seemed to place themselves into the status of conceptual necessities.

These ideas, for example, included such things as: [ESS] the Experiential Sensation System; [RPC] the Reality Process Center (not to be confused with a "Center" center); [RMS] the Resonant Memory System; the Objective Factors Gate; [SYM] the Conceptual Symbolizer, the Input and Output Sequencers and more. All of these components would have to be integrated into the complete idea in a way which might allow Gurdjieff's centers to actually perform the tasks attributed to each one. These seemingly awkward necessities became the feedstock which would test the completeness of Brain Systems.

The discussion of centers in these Fourth Way books was not a brief "shot in the dark." Counting pages, paragraphs or concepts, establishes that both primary authors had obviously devoted significant thought effort to this concept. It was an idea important to them, and it was an idea which had clearly captured their thoughts. Because of the date of their authorship, certain technology now easily known, was out of their reach. There are no "Edison phonograph rolls" in Brain Systems.

Further, it was clear that these students might require a new language, one which was more suited for the ideas and the thought-tasks inherent in recording attention. The fifteen centers were plunged into convenient abbreviation. Ii represents the intellectual part of the intellectual center; Se, the emotional part of the sex center; Em, the moving part of the emotional center, and so on through all fifteen parts. These terms are now used, years later, quite casually in this present school, and all students know precisely the full meaning, purpose and description of the component so noted. In many cases this is the "nomenclature" cited in the summaries of papers listed on this web page.

As the demands of these youthful tormentors continued to spread far and wide, they began to insist that this new model of centers also accommodate, logically, other subjects mentioned by Mr. Gurdjieff in his lectures, issues such as personality, negative emotion and the manifestations of Triamazikamno, the threefold way, within this same context, that is, within the new model contained in this paper.

It was their constant demand that: (a) "What was good for the goose was good for the gander." If this expansion of Mr. Gurdjieff's ideas were to be acceptable, it could not imply arbitrarily inflicted inconsistencies between his thoughts on centers, as interpreted in the paper, and his thoughts on other things contained in his lectures; and (b) There was no "glass ceiling" on the work of Mr. Gurdjieff which would preclude further expansion and investigation of the core thoughts he presented. As modern students, we inevitably enjoy access to all sorts of things, for example, Higgs' Bosons and a modern PC with its operating system, but this advantage will never provide us legitimate authority to abandon his amazingly timeless insight.

It is fairly clear, when we examine these ideas carefully, that Mr. Gurdjieff could "think" his way into our present future, if not detail by detail, certainly in a way which encompasses astounding understanding. Can anyone suggest that the production of high hydrogens from being foods or the labyrinth of the period of dimensions is somehow dated? Somehow less exciting now than it was then?

Every labor pays a wage!

This paper discusses the ideas concerning centers and consciousness presented in both P. D. Ouspensky’s work, The Psychology of Man’s Possible Evolution and lectures by Mr. Gurdjieff reported by Ouspensky in his books, In Search of the Miraculous and The Fourth Way. The concept of centers, the field of attention and the wrong work of centers must be understood as a foundation to self-observation. There will be no apology for starting simply in presenting this subject. The information in this series of papers on centers, while not painfully difficult to grasp, may seem quite alien even to the well read student of the Fourth Way. Hold the saber loosely. Find your curiosity. Employ and enjoy. I have included ideas of my own in the hope that they may prove helpful. I will endeavor to delineate the teaching of Mr. Gurdjieff and the gratefully appreciated work of P. D. Ouspensky from my own thoughts.

Why study centers?

This is an explanation of the construction of the mind in symbolic terms. The elements described in this paper are strictly functional elements. It is necessary to consider them separately from modern physiology, which although more complete now than at the time of Mr. Gurdjieff’s writing, has as of yet not created a functional model which can be reconciled with the physical brain. Likewise, Mr. Gurdjieff’s reference to “phonograph rolls” no doubt stems from his interest in finding a mechanical analog to brain functions. He would probably have been fascinated by a modern PC and the similarities between its RAM memory and activities of the human mind.

Mr. Gurdjieff made the admonition “Know Thyself.” He introduced the theory about the functioning of a mind with respect to centers. The theory was expanded to provide a higher resolution of centers within centers (i.e. the intellectual part of the emotional center). Various types of thought were ascribed to specific centers and to centers within centers. This appealing concept lacked only a rigorous treatment. Every student who encounters it develops an appetite to understand the idea fully.

The definition of thought processes ascribed to certain centers (within centers) is almost purposefully vague and incomplete. The bits which are described in the text are but tantalizing glimpses of what a student might imagine of the whole.

The paper is written for my school. The thoughts are my thoughts. They are given here for the benefit of my students. Items included focus in a specific way on certain information essential to recording attention and understanding the symbolic components of functional brain structures.

Important New Language for the Five Parts

The following information is excerpted from the sources noted. In each case the title and page are provided to encourage further study of the complete work. The portions presented here have been selected as a cursory basis of information and understanding.

Five centers are described in the work. Each primary center is divided into three parts. Mention is made that each of the three parts of each center is further divided into three parts and so on. This paper deals with the first division only, that is, the centers as symbolized in the boxes below.

As a convenience these centers and their parts will be described with a capital letter to indicate the primary center followed by a lower case letter to indicate the secondary part. The instinctive center will be noted as IN. Consequently, Me will refer to the emotional part of the moving center. Ei will refer to the intellectual part of the emotional center, and INm will refer to the mechanical or moving part of the instinctive center. These abbreviations will be in bold face for clarity.

In the series of lectures first published in the U.S. in 1950, Ouspensky gives furtive treatment to the assignment of certain types of thought to certain centers within centers.


mechanical part of the Intellectual Center [ Im ]

  1. works almost automatically
  2. it does not require attention
  3. cannot adapt to changes in circumstances
  4. cannot think ... continues to work in the way it started when circumstances have completely changed
  5. includes in itself all the work of registration of impressions, memories and associations
  6. should never reply to questions addressed to the whole center
  7. Formatory apparatus -- can count to two/dualistic
  8. it is always ready to decide and it always replies to questions of all sorts in a very narrow and limited way -- in ready made phrases, in slang expressions, in party slogans

emotional part of the Intellectual Center [ Ie ]

  1. consists chiefly of intellectual emotion


intellectual part of the Emotional Center [ Ei ]

  1. acts with the help of the intellectual part of the moving and instinctive center
  2. power of artistic creation
  3. chief seat of the magnetic center
    If the magnetic center exists only in the intellectual center. . . of the emotional center, it cannot be strong enough to be effective and is always liable to make mistakes or fail.
  4. intellectual part of the emotional center, when it is fully developed and works with its full power, is a way to the higher centers.


emotional part of the Moving Center [ Me ]

  1. connected chiefly with the pleasure of movement
  2. love of sport and games should normally belong to this part of the moving center, but when identification or other emotions are mixed with it, it is very rarely there, and in most cases the love of sport is in the moving part of either the intellectual or the emotional center

intellectual part of the Moving Center [ Mi ]

  1. invents one’s small methods for doing everything one does
  2. many other inventions of man also need the work of the intellectual part of the moving center
  3. i. e. the power of imitating at will the voice, intonation and gesture of other people, such as actors possess, also belongs to the intellectual part of the moving center, but in higher or better degrees, it is mixed with the work of the intellectual part of the emotional center


mechanical part of the Instinctive Center [ INm ]

  1. mechanical part includes in itself habitual sensations which very often we do not notice at all, but which serve as background to other sensations
  2. also instinctive movements in the correct meaning of the expression -- that is all inner movements ... blood, food ... and inner and outer reflexes

intellectual part of the Instinctive Center [ INi ]

  1. very big and very important. In the state of self-consciousness or approaching it, one can come into contact with the intellectual part of the instinctive center and learn a great deal from it concerning the functioning of the machine and its possibilities
  2. The intellectual part of the instinctive center is the mind behind all the work of the organism, a mind quite different from the intellectual mind.


The study of parts of centers and their special functions requires a certain degree of self-remembering.

Without remembering oneself one cannot observe for a sufficiently long time or sufficiently clearly to feel and understand the difference of functions belonging to the different parts of different centers.

The study of attention shows the part of centers better that anything, but the study of attention requires, again, a certain degree of self-remembering. Note the VERBS used in Ouspensky’s description (shown in italics, added here). The verbs used by Ouspensky in describing the engagement of various types of thought or types of work with each center are of interest. What is not said, notably, is that “. . . this center does this type of work.” Rather, the status of the centers as he describes them is almost passive, constituting, perhaps, more of a location or apparatus which contains an activity during the process of performing certain types of thought work.

  • Im includes in itself the work of registration
  • Me is connected chiefly with the pleasure of movement
  • INm includes in itself habitual sensations

The origin of these ideas about centers was unquestionably derived from the work of Mr. Gurdjieff. Mr. Ouspensky, on the other hand, undertook the reporting of this information from his own notes and memories of lectures by Mr. Gurdjieff. The contemporary student of Fourth Way must, of necessity, rely heavily on Mr. Ouspensky’s records of Mr. Gurdjieff’s thoughts, lectures and other work.

A dramatic schism separated the two. Although not particularly relevant to this paper, an account of Mr. Ouspensky’s thoughts considering the event appears in the final section of his small book. The severity of this disagreement was sufficiently intense to cause Mr. Ouspensky, especially in his book of Mr. Gurdjieff’s lectures, In Search of the Miraculous, to refer to the primary source of Fourth Way ideas as simply “G.” Today, there exist schools calling themselves “Fourth Way Schools” which are oriented exclusively to one or the other of these two men. A person reading this paper will quickly note the copious use of information from both.

Mr. Ouspensky, speaking to his students in Lecture Held Thursday, 23 September 1937, takes an opportunity to reveal in full measure his enmity for George Gurdjieff. The dispute was founded on some, no doubt, tangible issue concerning the system of the Fourth Way. As common to human affairs, the “tangible issue” faded almost to invisibility when it was compared to the “bright shiny object” which became available to students under both Ouspensky and Gurdjieff when the conflict became known. Later, the “bright shiny object” was reformed into what Beelzebub would term to be “the burning question of the day.”

No person presently alive has any conclusive evidence that their difficulty led to any intentional diminution of the value of the work of either man. For the student who works, The Fourth Way contains nothing hidden, no secrets held in a state of “keep away” to manipulate the sincerely curious.


Kathryn Speeth’s overview of Fourth Way ideas, The Gurdjieff Work, presents a remarkably accurate treatment of topics presented in the original Fourth Way literature. It is mentioned here to first remind the reader that not all material need be extracted from the books by Ouspensky and Gurdjieff, although there are certain widely accepted advantages to the decision to take Fourth Way information from its sources. Speeth’s book is written in an easy to understand form, replete with numerous drawings and charts. If all the people in the world who knew about The Fourth Way were gathered together, most of them would probably have read Speeth’s book or one like it. The second interesting reason to include it here is that it contains Speeth’s original and somewhat independent idea about the nature of centers. At the counterpoint, compared to Speeth’s book, Gurdjieff’s Beelzebub’s Tales to His Grandson is deeply engaging to its reader both with respect to its astounding content and to its deeply allegorical presentation. Life changes around the third reading of Beelzebub.

This concept as it describes the work of centers runs in a different line from those included at the beginning of this paper although they are generally consistent with Mr. Gurdjieff’s teaching. Speeth’s material, while appealing to students seeking a definition of the system, betrays a certain whimsical understanding of center thought processes with questionable applicability. Although her approach may seem somewhat unsettling, it may well prove to be both exciting and educational when one allows it free reign.

The important foundation of the centers is the argument that they are complete, that is, that they encompass the complete range of thought work in a human. To demonstrate this to yourself, consider the following exercise. The description of the five primary centers seems reasonable enough, yet one must remember that it was Mr. Gurdjieff’s view that these five functions -- the intellectual, moving, emotional, instinctive and sexual constituted the full range of variety for efforts of thought -- i.e. work. Test this idea to see if such a position is in any way arbitrary or subjective. Is this list complete and sufficient? Select a thought work candidate for a sixth center (not to be confused with the higher centers) which performs some type of thought-work excluded from these. In other words, find an additional center which is required to perform thought work which humans must accomplish which will not be serviced by Gurdjieff’s primary five.

Next, select from the “Function of Centres” Table above, one primary and subprimary center such as Im, Ee or Sm. Think carefully to see if you can determine important thought-work which must be accomplished by this center/subcenter which is not mentioned in the table. Also, consider whether your idea of personal thought-work is more critical to the organism’s functioning than those selected by Speeth for inclusion in her chart.

A favorite conflict for the student is in the apparent variance in the description of centers in Beelzebub’s Tales to His Grandson, the lectures reported in In Search of the Miraculous and the work of other authors who have been associated with the work (Speeth and many more). In Beelzebub the idea of centers for “those three brained beings” is included in the discussion of Threefoldness, leading the energetic student to the assumption that the Law of Threefoldness governs the design of human minds.



“Three brained beings have the possibility personally to perfect themselves, because in them there are localized three centers of their common presence or three brains, upon which afterwards, when the process of Djartklom proceeds in the Omnipresent Okidanokh, the three holy forces of the sacred Triamazikamno are deposited and acquire the possibility for their further, this time, independent actualizings.”

“It is interesting to note that the said being-brains are found in the same parts of the
planetary body of these three-brained beings who arise on the planet Earth as in us,

  1. The brain predetermined by Great Nature for the concentration and further actualizing
    of the first holy force of the sacred Triamazikamno, called the Holy Affirming is localized and found in the head.
  2. The second brain, which transforms and crystallizes the second holy force of the sacred Triamazikamno, namely, the Holy Denying, is placed in their common presences, also as in us, along the whole of their back in what is called the ‘spinal column.’
  3. But as regards the place of concentration and source for the further manifestation of the third holy force of the sacred Triamazikamno, namely, the Holy Reconciling -- the exterior form of this being-brain bears no resemblance whatever to ours.”

Later, on Saturn, while surviving Gornahoor Harharkh’s experiment, Beelzebub describes himself as a three centered being and notes the nature of the centers.

“In all my three ‘being-centers’ -- namely, in the three centers localized in the presence of every three-centered being, and which exist under the names ‘Thinking,’ ‘Feeling,’ and ‘Moving’ centers ...”

As Ouspensky reports lectures given by Mr. Gurdjieff in 1915, he notes the “growing” number of centers as a disconcerting inconsistency in Mr. Gurdjieff’s model.

“On the first occasion he spoke of three centers, the intellectual, the emotional and the moving, and tried to make us distinguish between these functions, find examples, and so on. Afterwards, the instinctive center was added as an independent and self-supporting machine. Afterwards, the sex center.

I remember his words.

“It is a very big thing when the sex center works with its own energy, but it happens very seldom.”

I recollect another remark which afterwards proved a ground for much wrong reasoning and many wrong conclusions. This was that the three centers of the lower story: the instinctive, the moving and the sex centers, work in relation to each other, in the order of the three forces -- and that the sex center, in normal cases, acts as the neutralizing force in relation to the instinctive and moving centers acting as active and passive forces.

The method of exposition of which I am speaking and G.’s suppressions in his first talks, resulted in the creation of much misunderstanding, more particularly in later groups not connected to my work.

Many people found contradiction between the first exposition of a given idea and subsequent explanations and, sometimes, in trying to hold as closely as possible to the first, they created fantastic theories having no relation to what G. actually said. Thus the idea of three centers was retained by certain groups (which, I repeat, were not connected with me). And this idea was, in some way, linked up with the idea of three forces, with which in reality it had no connection, first of all because there are not three centers but five in the ordinary man.

This uniting of two ideas of an entirely different order, scale and significance gave rise to many further misunderstandings and completely distorted the whole system for those who thought in this manner.”

Be reassured. This mischief, while interesting and illuminating, will cause no degrading effect on our study. Gurdjieff’s account of the centers is compelling and accurate. The illumination, of whatever value, mentioned above here serves to reveal the nature of the man, not the quality of the idea. Ouspensky’s account of this lecture also includes important ideas concerning the division of centers into three stories each and direct mention of the necessity of understanding this in the recording of attention. Attributing the origin of both of these concepts with Mr. Gurdjieff is made tenuous by Ouspensky’s “excitement crushing” appetite for exact definitions and clarity. It is very possible that this unfortunate divergence of ideas unfolded after the two men parted company or were preparing to.

This discussion is included here because the discipline of recording attention is based on understanding the functions of centers. Further, recording attention must, as shown by experience, be done quickly, accurately and at the highest resolution possible. This means that the greatest benefits are to be had from recording attention among all fifteen of the parts of the five primary centers (i.e. Ii Im Ie Mi Mm Me Ei Em Ee INi INm INe Si Sm Se).

Regardless of the origin of this idea, experience shows it to be effective and necessary. School experience further suggests that a far more reasoned analysis than those offered by Ouspensky or authors such as Speeth in the allocation of thought-work to each on these specific centers is needed. The symbolic division of thought work must include a center of association for any thought the student may be having during his recording of attention.

Finally, the resolution of thoughts as detected in the recording of attention needs to be far finer than those of Speeth in The Gurdjieff Work or Ouspensky in his Psychology of Man’s Possible Evolution. “ . . .the love of sport and games . . .” and “ . . .animal jealousy . . . ” are interesting notes of thought-work to be associated with centers, but each is far too broad to relate to a specific activity of a center. Additionally, neither is a state of thought-work encountered frequently by students in this school. It is essential for a student seeking Consciousness to build his own well defined understanding of what work is done by which of his centers, how that activity appears in his visualization of his field of attention and the proper center to associate with thought-work he observes in himself during the right work of centers. A final note responds to our “thinking center” culture where we worship with goose flesh all the fabulous things thinking centers seem to have accomplished. The centers are absolutely equal (not including the higher centers, of course) and, in a balanced man, each will be active about the same amount of time. One great revelation of recording attention, when done properly, is that we are not our intellectual center. Its work proceeds in its correct type of task in thought-work. Every student who reaches the development required for self-observation and the recording of attention is surprised and relieved by the amount of activity in each of his centers as he comes to respect the complexity and efficiency of himself as an organism.

For the work of recording attention and self-observation and for the basis of understanding the structure of this part of the organism, the concept of five centers will be used. Each of the five centers will be divided into three parts. The functions of these fifteen discrete parts will be described as much as possible by the text which can be directly attributed to Mr. Gurdjieff and Ouspensky in that this material originated as close to the source as any available to us. The student will have the conscious aim of enhancing the descriptions of these discrete functions and will accomplish this task using his own initiative, his own capacity for modeling and mapping, his own confidence in himself, his ability and desire for recording attention and his own willingness to take this risk as it arises from the necessity of resolving the concept generally.

Before any discussion of possible solutions to this dilemma, a review of the problem may be in order. Wrong work of centers, identification, false personality, and what may be called interlopers of identity with the false illusion of continuity represent much of the resistance to Consciousness we encounter.

Brain Systems Collection

The original Brain Systems main paper plus its four appendices.

$48.00 $40.00

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