In 1880, undergraduates of Balliol College, Oxford wrote a number of quatrains lampooning various members of the college. About Benjamin Jowett, Master of Balliol, they wrote as follows:
First come I. My name is Jowett.
There’s no knowledge but I know it.
I am Master of this College,
What I don’t know is not knowledge.
The assertion that someone could know everything is seen as ridiculous and thus amusing. Nevertheless Gurdjieff said (seriously)
“To know means to know all. Not to know all means not to know. In order to know all, it is only necessary to know a little. But, in order to know this little, it is first necessary to know pretty damn much.”
So what does “to know” actually mean?
To make sense of this (and what Gurdjieff said), we first need to understand the distinction between facts, data and information.
Facts are statements that are known to be true (or proved to be true).
Data (the word is plural) means facts. The word is often used in connection with statistics (a gathered collection of facts).
Information is conveyed statements. Information is not necessarily true and indeed is often false. It is simply something that has been informed to someone. If information is true, it is data/facts.
It follows from this that information is never knowledge—something we know—it is only knowledge when we prove it to be true.
Unfortunately, in English we have a difficulty with the verb “know.” In French there are two separate verbs, “connaître“ and “savior faire.”
“Connaître” means “to know” in the sense of being personally familiar with someone or something, to have experienced it yourself. Thus it is always followed by a noun. “Savoir faire” means to know how, as in “knowing how to kick a ball.” In English we have just one word, “know.” As a consequence we can confuse ourselves when thinking about knowledge.
In the quote above, Gurdjieff is referring to “savior faire.”
Knowledge of The Work
Consider the Work. We have never been given any data about the Work. No matter what we read or what videos we watched or who has spoken to us, what we received was information. We have to prove such information in order for it to become knowledge.
To better understand knowledge, it helps to consider it in terms of Knowledge #1, #2, etc.
Knowledge #1 is based simply upon imitation (or instincts) or may be learned by heart, programmed into a man. This is knowledge learned after the manner of a parrot. Knowledge #2 is based upon affirmation and denial, it’s knowledge of what a man likes or dislikes. What he dislikes he does not know or if he’s negatively oriented he knows what he dislikes, what causes him to hate or be fearful.
Knowledge #3 is based on subjective logical thinking and upon words. It is based on literal understanding.
Knowledge #4 is distinctly from Knowledge #1. #2 and #3. It is knowledge received from man #5, who in turn received it from man #6, who received it from #7. Knowledge #4 is not subjective. Man #4 has begun to untangle himself from the subjective elements in his knowledge.
Knowledge #5 is whole, indivisible knowledge. As Man #5 has an indivisible ‘I’ and all his knowledge is available to it. His knowledge cannot be fragments with one ‘I’ knowing something that another ‘I’ does not. What he knows, all of him knows.
Knowledge #6 is all the knowledge passible for a man.
Knowledge #7 is no different to Knowledge #6 except that it resides in a Man #7 and thus cannot be lost. He has crystallized his higher body and the knowledge is made permanent by that. And that is, of course, the knowledge Gurdjieff was speaking of when he said that to know means to know all.
In right development, the acquisition of knowledge is accompanied by the acquisition of being. About this Gurdjieff said, “It is necessary to know how to sacrifice everything, including oneself. A price has to be paid for knowledge. You yourself are this price.”