[From J. G. Bennett, Elementary Systematics: A Way for Understanding Wholes, Santa Fe: Bennett Books, 1993; David Seamon, Editor]
John G. Bennett (1897--1974) was a British scientist, mathematician and philosopher who integrated scientific research with studies of Asiatic languages and religions. The Dramatic Universe, his influential masterwork, was published in four volumes between 1956 and 1966.1 Throughout his life, Bennett travelled widely and met many little-known but important spiritual leaders. In the early 1920s, he was introduced to George Gurdjieff (1877--1949) and Peter Ouspensky (1878--1947), two philosophers and spiritual teachers who became central guiding forces in his life.
One important theme for both Gurdjieff and Ouspensky was the symbolic significance of numbers--a topic important in many religious traditions, both East and West. As a mathematician, Bennett became interested in reconciling the quantitative, materialist approach to number in modern Western science with the qualitative, intuitive approach of the world's spiritual traditions. In 1946, he founded the Institute for the Comparative Study of History, Philosophy and the Sciences, in Coombe Springs, Kingston, a suburb of London. One aim of the Institute was to sponsor research that explored the qualitative significance of number. In time, Bennett and his colleagues developed an approach they called systematics. This book is an introduction to that work.
What is systematics? In broadest terms, it is a conceptual tool that helps one to find pattern, order, and meaningful progression in the midst of life's complexity and confusion. Systematics assumes that, beneath the world's diversity and continual change, there is an underlying coherence that provides a vehicle for understanding, both practical and theoretical. Whatever the particular subject or task that one is involved with, systematics argues that there are certain recognizable patterns that help one to move through the subject's complexity and subtlety and to see the subject as it is essentially.
For systematics, the basis of these recognizable patterns is the qualitative significance of number. Systematics assumes that the world has an underlying coherence that can be described through the experienced qualities of number, thus the qualitative meaning of one-ness helps to define the particular whole in which one is interested, while the qualitative meaning of two-ness helps to define the various differences, polarities, and complementarities present in the whole. Yet again, three-ness helps to define relationship and reconciliation, while four-ness helps to define activity; and five-ness, significance and potential.
Bennett uses the word system to designate the underlying pattern that a specific number represents. Further, by using the Greek word for the particular number followed by the suffix -ad, he gives each system a name. Thus the monad represents one-ness; the dyad, two-ness; the triad, three-ness; the tetrad, four-ness; the pentad, five-ness; and so forth. Bennett argues that each of these systems can be applied to the particular thing in which the student is interested. In this way, he or she will gain a more comprehensive understanding of the thing and be better able to appreciate and work with it. In this book, Bennett introduces the systems from monad to pentad.
One way to describe systematics is to distinguish between two contrasting approaches to knowledge--analysis and synthesis. In analysis, the student simplifies by breaking the thing into parts and applying some method of examination. The aim is to explain how the thing works and to formulate practical action or theoretical pattern. Analysis is an integral part of modern Western science, which has been immensely successful in broadening our practical knowledge but less successful in regrouping all the parts to make again the original whole.
Another way to understand the world is through synthesis, which accepts the complexity of the situation but hopes to find underlying patterns that will allow the student to see the situation holistically in a clearer, simpler way. In the late twentieth century, we realize that nothing is either simple or self-evident. The key question, in terms of synthesis, is whether in the midst of the world's complexity, we can find some order other than the patterns of analysis, which are often imposed and reductive.
Drawing on a symbolic interpretation of numbers, systematics is one tool for synthesis. Through underlying patterns arising from the qualitative significance of numbers, systematics works to stay in contact with the whole rather than to break it into parts that are then studied piecemeal. Throughout his writings, Bennett emphasizes that analysis reigns in the twentieth century, particularly because of the practical, technological success of materialist science. He also emphasizes, however, that the human world is not, ultimately, a machine and cannot be understood or repaired in the same way that a machine can. He, therefore, identifies a need: to come closer to the world and to see it in a more comprehensive and accurate way. He deeply believes that systematics offers one conceptual means to answer this need.
The present book is an edited transcription of six lectures that Bennett gave in late 1963 at his Coombe Springs Institute.2 The first lecture discussed differences between knowledge and understanding, while the remaining five lectures described the systems from monad to pentad. These lectures were entirely spontaneous, and Bennett appears not to have reworked or edited the lectures in written form. They were, however, transcribed to typescript and, over the years, circulated among a small group of people interested in systematics.
Four years ago, Saul Kuchinsky, one of the major students of systematics today, distributed the six lectures to interested individuals in Great Britain and North America. It was then that I first read the lectures and was struck by their clarity and force. The strength of the lectures, however, was also their weakness: the spontaneity and power of Bennett's spoken words were sometimes lost in the fixed form of a written text. Often, there were gaps in meaning, or a point arose for which the reader was unprepared. People with a background in systematics could more or less follow the lectures, but newcomers frequently found them confusing and obscure.
In preparing the six lectures for publication, therefore, my main aim has been clarity and accessibility. Toward this end, I have actively worked on the lecture's original text and made three kinds of changes. First, I have frequently made shifts in word and sentence phrasing, since what is conveyed in speaking and what is conveyed in writing are often very much different. This change was required throughout the six lectures, and my main aim was to work for smoother flow and more lucid meaning. Second, and less frequently, I have made changes in the order in which sections of the lectures were presented. These changes were required where themes are introduced for which the reader is unprepared. Third, and largely in the chapter on triads, I have written new sections (mostly introductory paragraphs) without which meaning would falter. I have indicated these new sections in the end notes and have based their content on Bennett's other written comments on the particular topic.
The end notes for the lectures are of three types. Occasionally, I felt there was important material in the original lecture that impeded the flow of meaning. I have incorporated this material in notes that begin and end with double quotation marks; these notes present passages that were spoken by Bennett directly. A second group of notes clarify material with which newcomers may be unfamiliar, and a third group provide comments of clarification that Bennett made about a particular topic in his other writings.
The book also includes two appendices, the second of which is a list of further reading for individuals who wish to learn more about systematics. The first appendix is a reprint of Bennett's "General Systematics," originally published in the inaugural issue of Systematics, the Institute's research journal that was published from 1963 to 1974. Like the six lectures, this article is an introduction to systematics but discusses systems up to the eight-term octad and is more difficult than the six lectures.
Saul Kuchinsky and I decided to include this article because it extends many points that Bennett discussed in the lectures and illustrates a more academic, intellectual presentation of systematics. In editing this article, I have made small changes and additions that include minor phrasing revisions, notes citing works or discussions that Bennett mentions but provides no or incomplete references for, and subheadings to make the order of the article more clear. "General Systematics" is more compressed and philosophical than the six lectures, and the reader is advised to study them first before reading the article.
Systematics offers a valuable way for making sense of the world and for discovering a fuller meaning in life. There is a need for a clear introduction to the style and method of systematics, and I hope that Elementary Systematics helps to fulfill this need. Over the years, other people have also believed in the value of systematics, and some of these individuals have helped me greatly in my editing task. I must thank three people directly: first, the late Elizabeth Bennett, for her confidence that I could transform the spoken lectures into clear written form; and, second, the late Michael Franklin, for insisting on the need for this book and for reviewing my first draft of the edited lectures.
Particularly, I am grateful to Saul Kuchinsky, who profoundly believes in systematics and has helped to keep the approach alive over the last fifteen years. He first suggested this enterprise and nudged me to completion. He also provided important corrections and suggestions that make the book richer and stronger. In many ways, Elementary Systematics is as much his as Bennett's, and if systematics is to endure, it will partially be because of Saul Kuchinsky's persistent and selfless efforts.
1. Full references for these volumes, as well as a list of other relevant studies, are provided in appendix B, "Further Reading."
2. In Systematics, the journal of Bennett's Institute, there is listed in the Institute Calendar for October, 1963, the following description of the lectures: "Systematics for Beginners, October 11-December 13, alternate Fridays" (vol. 1, no. 2 , p. 183).