George Gurdjieff used an Eastern analogy to describe how the human entity works and how the centers impact its ability to act. He likened it to a horse and carriage driven by a driver. The four parts of the horse and carriage correspond to the four parts of a human and are connected by the centers. Each of the parts must work together properly, or else the whole structure will be unable to go anywhere, will work against itself, or will outright self-destruct.
The base of the system is the carriage, which he equated to the human body. If the carriage is not kept in good working order, then the whole system cannot move forward properly and may completely break down. In the same way, the human body must be kept in good working order and fueled with the highest order of fuel (food, water, air, impressions, etc.) or else a person will get sick and eventually die. The shafts and harness that connect the carriage are equivalent to the moving center, they instruct the whole system in how to travel in the desired direction, and also must be in working order.
The engine of the carriage is the horse, which he equated to the human heart. If the horse is weak it cannot pull the carriage, or if it is easily distracted, it will veer off course. The reins are the connection from the drive to the horse and are equivalent to the emotional center. If they are not used properly, the horse, or the emotions of a person, will be out of control or weak from misuse and will take the carriage (or body) into either self-destructive paths or be frozen and unable to move.
The next piece is the driver. This he equates to the human mind. If the driver does not know where to go, or is confused and unable to focus, or outright asleep, he will not be effective in getting the carriage where it needs to go. In the same way, the human mind must be focused and awake in order to move the body, and the mental center is equivalent to the driver’s understanding that directs his actions. He must be properly trained to direct the whole, physical system.
Finally, the last part of the system is the master. This is equivalent to the higher self or conscious awareness of a person. The master tells the driver where to go and how to do so. It is equivalent to the higher, conscious centers (higher emotional and higher intellectual) in the human system. If the driver is unable to hear the master’s voice then his choices will be based on his limited understanding and will either endanger or mislead the system.
In the majority of people, this system is not working properly and so the body or the carriage is unable to travel a straight path for a sustained period of time to a chosen destination. The moving center has created inefficient muscular tension that makes movement painful and destructive; the emotional center is improperly dominated by negative emotions that pull the person in various directions; and the mental center is clouded and asleep, unable to focus and plot a course and completely unable to hear the voice of the higher centers to the point where one would confidently state that their physical mind is the extent of control.
This analogy helps to understand the purpose of the major centers that we have access to and can consciously control and direct. Gurdjieff said that we must start with the intellectual center, so that the mind may be awoken and can hear the directions of the master so that it can then direct the other parts of our being.