Dr. Maurice Nicoll (19 July 1884 – 30 August 1953) was born in Scotland, the son of a well-known literary critic and minister. Through his father, he knew many famous and influential people as a boy including the Duke of Kent and Winston Churchill. Nicoll was educated at Cambridge, receiving a medical degree, and eventually practiced psychiatry in London where he became a pioneer in psychological medicine. He had the unique good fortune to spend considerable time under the tutelage George Gurdjieff, P.D. Ouspensky, as well as C. G. Jung. After studying the teaching of the Fourth Way closely with Ouspensky from 1931- 41, he was authorized to conduct his own groups on the psychological teaching given by Gurdjieff, which he continued to do until his death. He was the author of many well received books including Psychological Commentaries on the Teaching of Gurdjieff and Ouspensky, Living Time, and A New Man.
Dr. Nicoll on As Above So Below
“Everything is made on the same plan, small and great. In the Hermetic Writings we read: ‘As above, so below.’”
In light of his medical training, Nicoll presented an analogy between brain cells and body cells and the conscious and mechanical circles of humanity Gurdjieff taught. The brain cells are incommensurable and immortal relative to the lifespan of body cells, and they are also separated and unknown to the latter.
“Man is a cell in a greater, unmanifested body.”
Maurice Nicoll mentioned that we only make contact with the higher parts of our microcosmos by special means, that is, directly, by inner experience beyond the five exterior senses. He reiterates Plato, saying that the invisible realms contain an additional potency to what is physically seen, and are to be apprehended mentally by such channels as belief.
“The outer world is in us. The Cosmos is in man. Man is a Micro-Cosmos. All he sees outwardly is in some way in him.”
Dr. Nicoll further analogized that the many creatures we see in nature, such as the wasp, the turtle, the fox, etc., can be seen in us as different parts of our psychology called ‘I’s. This representation, he said, was made evident through the interpretation of dreams and in the esoteric meanings of parables.
“What we find in the atom may be some reflection of ourselves. If we find levels, and if we find that nothing can ever be predicted accurately in atomic phenomena, it may be that these ‘facts’ are related to the mind itself.”
Scientifically trained, Nicoll had a gift for connecting the details of modern understanding with the esoteric laws contained in the Fourth Way work he devoted himself to. We often intuitively conceive of a cosmos as a world above our own in scale, forgetting that the molecular and electronic worlds studied by science are governed by the same hierarchical principle that runs right throughout the universe; as within so without.
“The Universe is given, as it were, to everyone as seed or microcosmos within him – to develop as he pleases. As microcosmos in man it can evolve or not. Our own struggle for light then becomes the evolving Universe. It constitutes the Universe in evolution – or devolution.”
Practically speaking, although we contain this full universe within ourselves potentially, Nicoll taught that the higher levels of our own internal cosmos may only be actualized by conscious efforts using special knowledge of methods. He also makes the striking and obvious point that the universe evolves inside of its creations, from our very sense of self.
“These discontinuous degrees upon which the universe is framed exist also in man regarded as a microcosmos and an image of the macrocosmos.”
Maurice Nicoll, along with Fourth Way giants Gurdjieff, Ouspensky, and Collin, meticulously formulated a blueprint, which if followed, creates a breathing and harmonious inner universe, transporting the ancient meaning of as above so below into the 20th century.