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The River Crossing: Wolf, Goat, Cabbage, Man


An Ancient Saying

Only he will deserve the name of man and can count upon anything prepared for him from Above, who has already acquired corresponding data for being able to preserve intact both the wolf and the sheep confided to his care.

G.I.Gurdjieff's Commentary, and a Tricky Problem

A "psycho-associative philological analysis" of this saying of our ancestors which was made by certain learned men of our times- of course not from among those breeding on the continent of Europe- clearly showed that the word "wolf" symbolizes the whole of the fundamental and reflex functioning of the human organism and the word "sheep" the whole of the functioning of a man's feeling. As for the functioning of a man's thinking, this is represented in the saying by the man himself, a man who, in the process of his responsible life, owing to his conscious labours and voluntary sufferings, has acquired in his common presence corresponding data for always being able to create conditions for a possible existence together of these two heterogeneous and mutually alien lives. Only such a man can count upon and become worthy to possess that which, as affirmed in this saying, is prepared from above and is, in general, foreordained for man.

It is interesting to note that among the many proverbs and ingenious solutions to tricky problems habitually used by various Asiatic tribes, there is one- in which a wolf and, instead of a sheep, a goat also play their part- that corresponds very well, in my opinion, to the gist of the ancient saying I have quoted.

The question posed by this tricky problem is to find out how a man who has in his possession a wolf, a goat and, in the present case, a cabbage, can transfer them across a river from one bank to the other, if one takes into consideration, on the one hand, that his boat can carry only the load of himself and one of the three objects at a time, and on the other hand, that without his direct observation and influence the wolf can always destroy the goat, and the goat the cabbage.

And the correct answer to this popular riddle clearly shows that a man can achieve this not solely by means of the ingenuity which every normal man should have, but that in addition he must not be lazy nor spare his strength, but must cross the river an extra time for the attainment of his aim.

Returning to the meaning of the ancient saying chosen by me, and keeping in mind the gist of the correct solution of this popular riddle, then, if one thinks about it without any of the preconceptions always arising from the results of the idle thoughts usual to contemporary man, it is impossible not to admit with one's mind and agree with one's feelings that anyone calling himself a man must never be lazy, but, constantly devising all sorts of compromises, must struggle with his self-avowed weaknesses in order to attain the aim he has set himself: to preserve intact these two independent animals confided to the care of his reason, and which are, by their very essence, opposite to each other.

The Solution

A. E.

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