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This edition of The Psychology of Man's Possible Evolution includes a lecture in which Ouspensky givers some details of the 'School of the Fourth Way,' with which he was connected, and an account of some of its fundamental principles, methods, and rules. The psychology Ouspensky sets forth in this introductory lectures has existed in one form or another for thousands of years and, unlike modern psychology, studies man from the point of view of what he may become.
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I shall speak about the study of psychology, but I must warn you that the psychology about which I speak is very different from anything you may know under this name.
To begin with I must say that practically never in history has psychology stood at so low a level as at the present time. It has lost all touch with its origin and its meaning so that now it is even difficult to define the term “psychology”: that is, to say what psychology is and what it studies. And this is so in spite of the fact that never in history have there been so many psychological theories and so many psychological writings.
Psychology is sometimes called a new science. This is quite wrong. Psychology is, perhaps, the oldest science, and, unfortunately, in its most essential features a forgotten science. In order to understand how psychology can be defined it is necessary to realize that psychology except in modem times has never existed under its own name. By one reason or another psychology always was suspected of wrong or subversive tendencies, either religious or political or moral, and had to use different disguises. For thousands of years psychology existed under the name of philosophy. In India all forms of Yoga, which are essentially psychology, are described as one of the six systems of philosophy. Sufi teachings, which again are chiefly psychological, are regarded as partly religious and partly metaphysical. In Europe, even quite recently, in the last decades of the nineteenth century, many works on psychology were referred to as philosophy. And in spite of the fact that almost all subdivisions of philosophy such as logic, the theory of cognition, ethics, aesthetics, referred to the work of the human mind or senses, psychology was regarded as inferior to philosophy and as relating only to the lower or more trivial sides of human nature.
Parallel with its existence under the name of philosophy, psychology existed even longer connected with one or another religion. This does not mean that religion and psychology ever were one and the same thing, or that the fact of the connection between religion and psychology was recognized. But there is no doubt that almost every known religion—certainly I do not mean modem sham religions—developed one or another kind of psychological teaching connected often with a certain practice, so that the study of religion very often included in itself the study of psychology.
There are many excellent works on psychology in quite orthodox religious literature of different countries and epochs. For instance, in early Christianity there was a collection of books of different authors under the general name of Philokalia, used in our time in the Eastern Church, especially for the instruction of monks.
During the time when psychology was connected with philosophy and religion it also existed in the form of art. Poetry, drama, sculpture, dancing, even architecture, were means for transmitting psychological knowledge. For instance, the Gothic cathedrals were in their chief meaning works on psychology.
In the ancient times before philosophy, religion, and art had taken their separate forms as we now know them, psychology had existed in the form of Mysteries, such as those of Egypt and of ancient Greece.
Later, after the disappearance of the Mysteries, psychology existed in the form of Symbolical Teachings which were sometimes connected with the religion of the period and sometimes not connected, such as astrology, alchemy, magic, and the more modem Masonry, occultism, and Theosophy.
And here it is necessary to note that all psychological systems and doctrines, those that exist or existed openly and those that were hidden or disguised, can be divided into two chief categories.
First: systems which study man as they find him, or such as they suppose or imagine him to be. Modem “scientific” psychology, or what is known under that name, belongs to this category.
Second: systems which study man not from the point of view of what he is, or what he seems to be, but from the point of view of what he may become; that is, from the point of view of his possible evolution.
These last systems are in reality the original ones, or in any case the oldest, and only they can explain the forgotten origin and the meaning of psychology.
When we understand the importance of the study of man from the point of view of his possible evolution, we shall understand that the first answer to the question, what is psychology, should be that psychology is the study of the principles, laws, and facts of man's possible evolution.
Here, in these lectures, I shall speak only from this point of view.