Updated: Dec 2, 2020
Last week, in a dream I found myself in conversation in my mind with one of my past teachers from the Gurdjieff work. I had been dreaming vividly that night, meandered through inner impressions when the scene changed and suddenly I was with him, at a table in a place that was familiar, and I said to him out loud in my lucid dream, “I don’t know if I will (live long enough to) ever read all of these books I have collected.” I was referring to the library that I have proudly acquired over the years of buying books about everything in the world that interests me. And he replied to me, “No man who is an observer sees the observer die.”
Wow, I woke from my dream to capture that so that I could think about it later. I believe it was a powerful moment, but I can't say yet if it was one of realization or transmission. That, of course, is open to my own interpretation. After all, it is me who is the observer of this dream, as well as the dreamer of it. Since I captured it in the moment of lucid dreaming, I am not concerned about my memory of it. But what does it mean? That must be interpreted, and I am certain that there is a meaning here yet to be unconcealed.
So the other piece of this question ruminating in my mind is a conversation that I am revisiting in a workshop I am currently taking on Cultural Biology with Professor Humberto Maturana. In that context, I have just read again, his statement of a fundamental metasystemic law that “Everything said is said by an observer to another observer that could be him or herself." This is a central idea that Maturana proposes. I find it strikingly relevant also to the ideas of G. I. Gurdjieff that also has influenced my thinking, and to the teaching about what he referred to as 'self-observation' and 'self-remembering'. This question of who 'I AM" at the moment that I am observing my self is a haunting one, because it as ancient as thinking itself. Without this 'I', there is no point of view for the experience of life, and also there is no possibility of saying anything because this I exists in language.
However, despite what I am saying about it, I do not profess to understand any of it in its facticity. This is despite years of thinking about it because it’s clear that the moment one thinks one knows something, it becomes a limitation to actually learning anything more. At best I make the best effort I can to talk about it. Perhaps I might say something intelligible about it. In essence, what Maturana is saying about it is that for human beings, there is no reality that is independent of the experience of reality that we discover through our biology as an organism embedded in an environmental niche. He is also saying that we cannot actually distinguish between our perception and phenomenological reality in the world, on account of neurological closure that provides that sensation of the world. We live instead, through our distinctions about the world.
So when Maturana also asks the reflective question, “What is it that lives, and that also dies?” I can only wonder about the miracle of my own observer that observes my own life. Because, as a human being, I too will die, and so this observer dies. This raises the question of how one can know about death if there is no observer who can observe it, and likewise can share the observation with another observer, even if that observer is the same one who experiences that process of observing. The matter of knowing suddenly seems vastly unknowable where one's consciousness of self and the world is concerned.
Maturana’s recursive perspectives are famous to anyone who has studied him because the presence of these paradoxes is the essence of the day-to-day experience of reflecting and hopefully understanding our own humanness through our experiences. This is his way of defining in language the process by which 'languaging' as a human quality allows distinctions to be made of observations. And language like consciousness is equally paradoxical, as it exists only because of our biology which is configured by nature to provide it.
Perhaps what it is that lives that also dies, includes that which observes and cannot observe its own death. It may be one and the same position as cognitive blindness, in which one does not know what one does not know, especially about our states of being awake or dreaming in a dream.