Gurdjieff presented this in an analogy of a horse, carriage and driver. Here is a full description he once gave:
The Hackney Carriage
A man as a whole with all his separately concentrated and functioning localizations, that is to say, his formed and independently educated “personalities,” is almost exactly comparable to that organization for conveying a passenger, which consists of a carriage, a horse, and a coachman. It must first of all be remarked that the difference between a real man and a pseudo man, that is, between one who has his own “I” and one who has not, is indicated in the analogy we have taken by the passenger sitting in the carriage.
In the first case, that of the real man, the passenger is the owner of the carriage; and in the second case, he is simply the first chance passer-by who, like the fare in a “hackney carriage,” is continuously being changed. The body of a man with all its motor reflex manifestations corresponds simply to the carriage itself; all the functionings and manifestations of feeling of a man correspond to the horse harnessed to the carriage and drawing it; the coachman sitting on the box and directing the horse corresponds to that in a man which people call consciousness or mentation; and finally, the passenger seated in the carriage and commanding the coachman is that which is called “I.”
The fundamental evil among contemporary people is chiefly that, owing to the rooted and widespread abnormal methods of education of the rising generation, this fourth personality which should be present in everybody on reaching responsible age is entirely missing in them; and almost all of them consist only of the three enumerated parts, which parts, moreover, are formed arbitrarily of themselves and anyhow. In other words, almost every contemporary man of responsible age consists of nothing more nor less than simply a “hackney carriage,” and one moreover, composed as follows: a broken-down carriage “which has long ago seen its day,” a crock of a horse, and, on the box, a tatterdemalion, half-sleepy, half-drunken coachman whose time designated by Mother Nature for self-perfection passes while he waits on a corner, fantastically daydreaming, for any old chance passenger.
The first passenger who happens along hires him and dismisses him just as he pleases, and not only him but also all the parts subordinate to him. Continuing this analogy between a typical contemporary man, with his thoughts, feelings, and body, and a hackney carriage, horse, and coachman, we can clearly see that in each of the parts composing both organizations there must have been formed and there must exist its own separate needs, habits, tastes, and so on, proper to it alone. From the varied nature of their arising, and the diverse conditions of their formation, and according to their varying possibilities in each of them there must inevitably have been formed, for instance, its own psyche, its own notions, its own subjective supports, its own viewpoints, and so on. The whole totality of the manifestations of human mentation, with all the inherencies proper to this functioning and with all its specific particularities, corresponds almost exactly in every respect to the essence and manifestations of a typical hired coachman.
Like all hired coachmen in general, he is a type called “cabby.” He is not entirely illiterate because, owing to the regulations existing in his country for the “general compulsory teaching of the three R’s,” he was obliged in his childhood to put in an occasional attendance at what is called the “parish church school.” Although he himself is from the country and has remained as ignorant as his fellow rustics, yet rubbing shoulders, owing to his profession, with people of various positions and education, picking up from them, by bits here and bits there, a variety of expressions embodying various notions, he has now come to regard everything smacking of the country with superiority and contempt, indignantly dismissing it all as “ignorance.”
In short, this is a type to whom applies perfectly the definition, “The crows he raced but by peacocks outpaced.” He considers himself competent even in questions of religion, politics, and sociology; with his equals he likes to argue; those whom he regards as his inferiors, he likes to teach; his superiors he flatters, with them he is servile; before them, as is said, “he stands cap in hand.” One of his chief weaknesses is to dangle after the neighboring cooks and housemaids, but, best of all, he likes a good hearty tuck-in, and to gulp down another glass or two, and then, fully satiated, drowsily to daydream.
To gratify these weaknesses of his, he always steals a part of the money given him by his employer to buy fodder for the horse. Like every “cabby” he works as is said always “under the lash,” and if occasionally he does a job without being made, it is only in the hope of receiving tips. The desire for tips has gradually taught him to be aware of certain weaknesses in the people with whom he has dealings, and to profit himself by them; he has automatically learned to be cunning, to flatter, so to say, to stroke people the right way, and, in general, to lie. On every convenient occasion and at every free moment he slips into a saloon or to a bar, where over a glass of beer he daydreams for hours at a time, or talks with a type like himself, or just reads the paper. He tries to appear imposing, wears a beard, and if he is thin pads himself out to appear more important.
The totality of the manifestations of the feeling-localization in a man and the whole system of its functioning correspond perfectly to the horse of the hackney carriage in our analogy. Incidentally, this comparison of the horse with the organization of human feeling will serve to show up particularly clearly the error and one-sidedness of the contemporary education of the rising generation.
The horse as a whole, owing to the negligence of those around it during its early years, and to its constant solitude, is as if locked up within itself; that is to say, its so to say “inner life” is driven inside, and for external manifestations it has nothing but inertia. Thanks to the abnormal conditions around it, the horse has never received any special education, but has been molded exclusively under the influence of constant thrashings and vile abuse. It has always been kept tied up; and for food, instead of oats and hay, there is given to it merely straw which is utterly worthless for its real needs.
Never having seen in any of the manifestations towards it even the least love or friendliness, the horse is now ready to surrender itself completely to anybody who gives it the slightest caress. The consequence of all this is that all the inclinations of the horse, deprived of all interests and aspirations, must inevitably be concentrated on food, drink, and the automatic yearning towards the opposite sex; hence it invariably veers in the direction where it can obtain any of these. If, for example, it catches sight of a place where even once or twice it gratified one of the enumerated needs, it waits the chance to run off in that direction.
It must further be added that although the coachman has a very feeble understanding of his duties, he can nevertheless, even though only a little, think logically; and remembering tomorrow, he either from fear of losing his job or from the desire of receiving a reward, does occasionally evince an interest in doing something or other for his employer without being driven to it; but the horse — in consequence of there not having been formed in it at the proper time, owing to the absence of any special and corresponding education, any data at all for manifesting the aspirations requisite for responsible existence — of course fails to understand (and indeed it cannot be expected that it should understand) why in general it must do anything; its obligations are therefore carried out quite inertly and only from fear of further beatings.
As far as the carriage or cart is concerned, which stands in our analogy for the body without any of the other independently formed parts of the common presence of a man, the situation is even worse. This cart, like most carts, is made of various materials, and furthermore is of a very complicated construction. It was designed, as is evident to every sane-thinking man, to carry all kinds of burdens, and not for the purpose for which contemporary people employ it, that is, only for carrying passengers.
The chief cause of the various misunderstandings connected with it springs from the fact that those who made the system of this cart intended it for travel on the byroads, and certain inner details of its general construction were in consequence foreseeingly made to answer to this aim. For example, the principle of its greasing, one of the chief needs of a construction of such different materials, was so devised that the grease should spread over all the metallic parts from the shaking received from the jolts inevitable on such roads, whereas now, this cart that was designed for traveling on the byroads finds itself stationed on a rank in the city and traveling on smooth, level, asphalted roads.
In the absence of any shocks whatsoever while going along such roads, no uniform greasing of all its parts occurs, and some of them consequently must inevitably rust and cease to fulfill the action intended for them. A cart goes easily as a rule if its moving parts are properly greased. With too little grease, these parts get heated and finally red-hot, and thus the other parts get spoiled; on the other hand, if in some part there is too much grease, the general movement of the cart is impaired, and in either case it becomes more difficult for the horse to draw it. The contemporary coachman, our cabby, neither knows nor has any suspicion of the necessity of greasing the cart, and even if he does grease it, he does so without proper knowledge, only on hearsay, blindly following the directions of the first comer.
That is why, when this cart, now adapted more or less for travel on smooth roads, has for some reason or other to go along a byroad, something always happens to it; either a nut gives way, or a bolt gets bent or something or other gets loose; and after these attempts at traveling along such roads, the journey rarely ends without more or less considerable repairs. In any case, to make use of this cart for the purposes for which it was made is already impossible without risk. If repairs are begun, it is necessary to take the cart all to pieces, examine all its parts, and, as is done in such cases, “kerosene” them, clean them, and put them together again; and frequently it becomes clearly necessary immediately and without fail to change a part.
This is all very well if it happens to be an inexpensive part, but it may turn out to be more costly than a new cart. And so, all that has been said about the separate parts of that organization of which, taken as a whole, a hackney carriage consists can be fully applied also to the general organization of the common presence of a man. Owing to the absence among contemporary people of any knowledge and ability specially to prepare in a corresponding way the rising generation for responsible existence by educating all the separate parts composing their common presences, every person of today is a confused and extremely ludicrous something, that is to say, again using this example we have taken, a something resembling the following picture.
A carriage just out of the factory, made on the latest model, polished by genuine German craftsmen from the town of Barmen, and harnessed to the kind of horse which is called in the locality named Transcaucasia, a “Dglozidzi.” (“Dzi” is a horse; “Dgloz” is the name of a certain Armenian specialist in buying utterly worthless horses and skinning them.) On the box of this stylish carriage sits an unshaven, unkempt, sleepy coachman-cabby, dressed in a shabby cloak which he has retrieved from the rubbish heap where it had been thrown as utterly worthless by the kitchen-maid Maggie. On his head reposes a brand-new top hat, an exact replica of Rockefeller’s; and in his buttonhole there is displayed a giant chrysanthemum.
This picture, however ludicrous, of contemporary man, is an inevitable result, chiefly because from the first day of the arising and formation of a contemporary man, all these three parts formed in him — which parts, although diversely caused and with properties of diverse quality, should nevertheless, at the period of his responsible existence for pursuing a single aim, all together represent his entire whole — begin, so to say, to “live” and to become fixed in their specific manifestations separately one from another, never having been trained either to the requisite automatic reciprocal maintenance, reciprocal assistance, or to any, even though only approximate, reciprocal understanding; and thus, when afterward concerted manifestations are required, these concerted manifestations do not appear.
Thanks to what is called the “system of education of the rising generation” which at the present time has already been completely fixed in the life of man and which consists singly and solely in training the pupils, by means of constant repetition to the point of “madness,” to sense various almost empty words and expressions and to recognize, only by the difference in their consonance, the reality supposed to be signified by these words and expressions, the coachman is still able to explain after a fashion the various desires arising in him, but only to types similar to his own outside of his common presence, and he is sometimes even able approximately to understand others.
This coachman-cabby of ours, gossiping with other coachmen while waiting for a fare, and sometimes, as is said, “flirting” at the gate with the neighbor’s maid, even learns various forms of what is called “savoir-vivre.” He also, by the way, according to the external conditions of the life of coachmen in general, gradually automatizes himself to distinguish one street from the other and to calculate, for instance, during repairs in some street, how to get to the required street from another direction.
But as for the horse, although the maleficent invention of contemporary people which is called education does not extend over the horse’s formation, and in consequence its inherited possibilities are not atrophied, yet owing to the fact that this formation proceeds under the conditions of the abnormally established process of the ordinary existence of people, and that the horse grows up ignored like an orphan by everybody, and moreover an ill-treated orphan, it neither acquires anything corresponding to the established psyche of the coachman nor learns anything of what he knows, and hence is quite ignorant of all the forms of reciprocal relationship which have become usual for the coachman, and no contact is established between them for understanding each other.
It is possible, however, that in its locked-in life the horse does nevertheless learn some form of relationship with the coachman and that even, perhaps, it is familiar with some “language”; but the trouble is that the coachman does not know this and does not even suspect its possibility. Apart from the fact that, owing to the said abnormal conditions, no data for even an approximate understanding of each other are formed between the horse and the coachman, there are also still other and numerous external causes, independent of them, which fail to give them the possibility of together actualizing that one purpose for which they were both destined.
The point is, that just as the separate independent parts of a “hackney” are connected — namely, the carriage to the horse by the shafts and the horse to the coachman by reins — so also are the separate parts of the general organization of man connected with each other; namely, the body is connected to the feeling-organization by the blood, and the feeling-organization is connected to the organization actualizing the functioning of mentation or consciousness by what is called Hanbledzoin, that is, by that substance which arises in the common presence of a man from all intentionally made being-efforts.
The wrong system of education existing at the present time has led to the coachman’s ceasing to have any effect whatever on his horse, unless we allow the fact that he is merely able by means of the reins to engender in the consciousness of the horse just three ideas — right, left, and stop. Strictly speaking he cannot always do even this, because the reins in general are made of materials that react to various atmospheric phenomena: for example, during a pouring rain they swell and lengthen; and in heat, the contrary; thereby changing their effect upon the horse’s automatized sensitiveness of perception.
The same proceeds in the general organization of the average man whenever from some impression or other the so to say “density and tempo” of the Hanbledzoin changes in him, when his thoughts entirely lose all possibility of affecting his feeling-organization. And so, to resume all that has been said, one must willy-nilly acknowledge that every man should strive to have his own “I”; other wise he will always represent a hackney carriage in which any fare can sit and which any fare can dispose of just as he pleases.