Ken Pledge ( 1935-2015 )

The Rascoorano of Ken Pledge, by Tony Blake

Gurdjieff spoke of death as sacred rascoorano. The meaning of this may be obscure. It strikes me though as a real phenomenon: ‘something’ is released in a death that is like a spark that awakens and reveals. This morning I was realising that Ken’s death – like that of others I have known – had created a kind of ‘inner probe’. It was of the nature of a truth-probe, in that it raised for me the deepest issues of what the work means and what JGB’s work was for – and what his work really was – and hence what I and others might be engaged in (or missing the point of).
As most will know, JGB was immersed in science and ran a research institute concerned with fuel technology. He was experienced in handling creative people. In the early days at Coombe Springs he had some big brains around him, such as Foster, Thring and Brown. After going through the dramatic events of re-contacting Gurdjieff, the split with the French ‘mafia’ led by Madame de Salzmann, the eruption of Subud and his conversion to Catholicism, JGB was starting again and re-opened his quest for a marriage of Gurdjieff’s ideas with modern science. This time, he had some brains around him, but they were relatively ‘uncooked’.
In particular, there was a ‘gang of four’: Bortoft, Hodgson, Pledge and myself. (A fifth, Simon Weightman was in the wings but he was not centred on science as we were). Now two of us are dead. We were quite disparate in temperament. But we all admired JGB and were fans of ‘The Dramatic Universe’. We engaged with JGB in various ways. For example, I was of some assistance in the writing of Volumes III and IV. Th ere was the remarkable project on an ‘Objectively Complete Language’ involving JGB, Pledge and Bortoft (which John Dale laboured recently to go through and correct). Hodgson took the systematics into the business world. Then there was the journal Systematics. Meanwhile we were engaged in the various practices such as movements and JGB was still on his ‘vision quest’ as I might call it and was to meet with the Shiva Puri Baba and Idries Shah.
JGB took us into the world of educational research (ISERG – integral science research group) studying curricula. We used to meet in a student basement in Kensington, going down steps for our meetings into a room often filled with the sound of a double bass and using an adjoining room to go ‘for a shout’ – i.e a Subud latihan – before settling down to mysteries of the universe. The physicist David Bohm came a few times!
I mentioned our diverse natures. Hodgson went into management circles but also met with cyberneticists such as Stafford Beer and, I believe, Bucky Fuller. Bortoft however was moving away from JGB and eventually left him and attached himself to Idries Shah. Temperamentally he was alienated from systematics and centred himself in hermeneutics. Pledge went for mathematical investigations. I was more interested in systematics as a possibly transformative process. Relations were not always harmonious between us but we had the boon of a common language and a mentor of wide encompass.
Ken at one time was warden at Coombe Springs. I remember well how he had the traumatic experience of showing a visitor round the grounds and coming across the body of a man called Boris, a one-legged veteran of the First World War) who had committed suicide in one of the ponds. Ken left Coombe to become a ‘demonstrator’ in the science labs of a col lege and there developed his keen capacity for precision of thought allied to precision of machinery and mathematics.
At one time three of us – Hodgson, Pledge and myself – lived in the ‘Fishbowl’. This was a building once containing labs. The rooms were just partitioned off sections (any heat in the rooms just escaped into the corridor) and were bitterly cold in Winter. I mention the dwellings because Ken was next door to me. At one session of ISERG I had proposed an ‘octave’ of visual perception. For some reason this got into Ken in a ferocious way. For two nights he did not sleep. What he came up with developed later in his masterly ‘Structured Process in Scientific Experiment’, still the ONLY example of an exact, technical treatment of the enneagram.
Ken of course was also the only person who made something of the higher dimensional geometry that Bennett outlin ed in an appendix to Volume I of the DU. JGB with Thring and Brown had managed to get a paper published in the Royal Society but it was never taken any further by them. Ken was a stickler for precision. When I wanted to read one of his papers on the mathematics of the geometry he insisted I take a test on Tensor Calculus. I remember that he gave me 7 out of 10 but allowed me to see the paper! He was always insistent that people should know something and study and not just expect to be fed. When I got him to give a seminar at Claymont he tried to insist that only those with the equivalent of what in the UK was called ‘O’ level maths should attend. I very much approved of this.
The ‘diaspora’ of the four of us meant that we were hardly in contact. I feel I did try to keep in touch with the others but there were barriers. Hodgson and Bortoft had new affiliations and were not interested in communicating with me and Ken was becoming increasingly reclusive. On its small scale this reflected what always tends to happen in any ‘movement’ or initiation of ideas.
He did not publish anything with the exception of his excellent edition of JGB’s book Transformation and, as I have just noticed, he was involved in a new edition of Gurdjieff – Making a New World. What is going to happen with his numerous papers is very uncertain. Who can deal with them?
I have said nothing about Ken as a person. Many will have fond memories of him. For me, his rascoorano has been a jolt to my consciousness and has amplified and awakened critical questions of what ‘it was all about’.
Fairly synchronously, I recently unearthed a paper by Ken about JGB’s ‘cosmodesic hypothesis’ which was the basis of the multi-dimensional geometry. I have only his Introduction, but it is fascinating and will appear in the next issue of the DuVersity Newsletter. It is fascinating not only for its surface content but also for its manifestation of Ken’s love for JGB that, however, never prevented him from making criticisms. Ken was centred in the scientific attitude and was almost alone in seeking to understand and further the mathematical physics that underpinned The Dramatic Universe. I often as not disagreed with him but that is an essential part of the process.
But what was or is this process? What is there to understand? Who or what is in charge? May Ken’s death serve consciousness.

Notes on Ken Pledge

Ken Pledge was born in London in 1935. By training, he was a mathematical physicist and initially heard of “work-ideas” and read Ouspensky, Gurdjieff, and JG Bennett’s DRAMATIC UNIVERSE, vol. 1, while still at college in the late 1950s. He first visited JGB’s Institute for Comparative Study at Coombe Springs near London, and met JGB there, in 1960.
Subsequently, he lectured in physics for two years at a technical college, and also took part in JGB’s Gurdjieff work and movements., educational-research groups, and so forth. Around 1963, he abandoned teaching to live and work at Coombe Springs as both research fellow and staff member of JGB’s Institute, during the period when JGB was developing Systematics and writing the third and fourth volumes of THE DRAMATIC UNIVERSE.
In 1965, he was co-author (with JGB and Henri Bortoft) of a paper, “Towards an Objectively Complete Language,” in the Institute journal’s SYSTEMATICS. This paper presented a strikingly novel attempt to construct a symbolic language that could express what scientists actually do.
His own 1966 SYSTEMATICS paper “Structured Process in Scientific Experiment,” an early breakthrough in applying the enneagram to scientific work, was later reprinted (1983) in JGB’s ENNEAGRAM STUDIES, and his 1970 paper, “THE Cipher of Genesis,” was republished with additional material in 1982 by CS Press. In 1976-77, he prepared JGB’s book, TRANSFORMATION, for publication.
He returned to lecturing in physics and mathematics in the late 1960s until he took early retirement as Senior Lecturer from the Middlesex Polytechnic in 1988. During the late 1970s, he conducted occasional experimental London groups to study work ideas, one of which was concerned with “third-reading” of BEELZEBUB’S TALES.
Since 1985, he worked intensively to further investigate both Gurdjieff’s and JGB’s ideas, especially the mathematical physics of JGB’s five-dimensional unified field theory in the first volume of THE DRAMATIC UNIVERSE, rewriting and extending the physical appendices of that volume for a long proposed (and hopefully forthcoming) reprint.
In 1987, he was invited to the USA to speak at a Cave Junction seminar (see “”Trust” in the Claymont journal IMPRESSIONS, 1988). IN June 1992, he led a ten-day seminar on Gurdjieff’s and JGB’s ideas and cosmological world-picture at Claymont in West Virginia; and in July and August gave related talks both at Cave Junction and at Two Rivers Farm in Oregon.
In July, 1993, his paper, “The Concrete Significance of Number in Experience: Its Relevance to Systematics and the Enneagram Cosmogony” (CSN) was published as an updated reprint by Saul Kuchinsky’s Unis Institute. He spoke on CSN at the “All and Everything 96″ conference.”

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