Is maze brightness in rats an equivalent of enlightenment in humans?

I thought you might like to read an excerpt from the book I’m reading in a book group. The book is called Life in the Labyrinth, by E.J. Gold, who is in the Gurdjieffian Fourth Way lineage of teaching awareness expansion.

As a child of thirteen and fourteen, I found my bedroom overrun with lab rats, and more or less as an afterthought — I had no other use for them, not being particularly attracted to vivisection and the like — built a few mazes to study rat behavior.

One item stood out clearly in my observations of dozens of rats stumbling, bumping and sniffing their way toward their final reward as they learned to synthesize experiential data through a primitive form of deduction…or didn’t learn, and nearly starved to death.

I discovered, independently of texts on behavioral sciences, something which I later learned was by convention called maze brightness, which could be defined for the moment as “becoming able to find new paths through the maze toward the reward-point through sheer repetition”, from which we could, if we weren’t overly concerned about how far we could quantum leap, deduce that some rats eventually become aware of the general rules of maze construction, of course only on a purely subjective-instinctive nose-and-gut level.

I discovered through this a special learning process which could enable the rat to solve not only one known maze but virtually any maze it may thereafter happen to encounter by accident or design.

I also concluded, probably rightly, that such a rat would, eventually — having blundered its way through a sufficient number of mazes — in spite of itself, begin to dimly recognize the inescapable fact that it is in a maze and that moreover, it cannot — at least by present means — remove itself to parts unknown.

Once this first all-important recognition has been achieved, without which nothing further is possible in any direction except down, it can begin to perceive and analyze its surroundings as they actually are, and not as its unexamined fears and perceptual occlusions have caused it to imagine them to be.

Because the perceptual-emotional will have, for the moment, been resolved, it will no longer exhibit the compulsion to maintain a self-constructed veil of confusion and disorientation.

One would think the thrill of observing that single rat, which out of dozens, suddenly gave indications of having become aware of the maze would soon pall, but au contraire…the excitement of this simple yet magnificent discovery never failed to strike me as anything less than downright apotheotic*, and any behavioral scientist worth his or her weight in potassium nitrate who says anything different is spouting pure scoria*.

A rat achieves maze brightness, and its eyes seem somehow at once both older and younger; general posture and behavior toward the environment and toward itself show radical signs of alteration. It seems less frantic, more self-assured, and noticeably less self-destructive.

At the same time, one can see visible signs of excitement as a new sense of freedom descends overwhelmingly upon it, the same sense of freedom which humans who have discovered what they call “enlightenment” experience.

E.J. Gold is a good storyteller, and I’ve just ordered two more of his books, Practical Work on the Self and The Human Biological Machine As a Transformational Apparatus. The book group I joined has already read them, so I have some catching up to do.

*apotheosis means to exalt a person to the rank of God

*scoria means the scum left after melting metal

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