The associative functioning of our mind, where one thought follows another as a result of external or internal stimuli.
"In this system imagination does not mean conscious or intentional thinking on some subject or visualization of something, but imagination that turns without any control and without any result. It takes very much energy and turns thinking in a wrong direction." - Peter Ouspensky (The Fourth Way)
Since our emotional, physical, and intellectual functions can manifest independently of our consciousness, our vessel is referred to as a 'machine.' Its unconscious actions are described as 'mechanical.' They are set in motion without our needing to 'do' anything. As long as we buffer the reality of our mechanicality by telling ourselves that we are the originators of what we say, sense, or think, our actions remain mechanical. But if we make effort to become aware of our thoughts, sensations, and emotions as mechanical impulses that aren't our own - that are not 'I' - then we begin developing a consciousness that is separate from the machine. This consciousness can grow to govern the machine's actions.
"What does it mean that man is a machine? It means that he has no independent movements, inside or outside of himself. He is a machine which is brought into motion by external influences and external impacts. All his movements, actions, words, ideas, emotions, moods and thoughts are produced by external influences." - Peter Ouspensky (The Psychology of Man's Possible Evolution)
In this teaching, the word 'I' can be spoken of on different levels (see diagram to the right). In the ordinary state of multiplicity, our sense of 'I' almost exclusively belongs to our false personality. This means that we build our identity around an imaginary picture of ourselves, attributing to ourselves qualities we do not have. If we begin to suspect this falsehood, a group of 'I's forms outside of our false personality that seeks a more objective view of ourselves. This group of 'I's draws us to search for truth and serves as a magnet to new kinds of influences. Hence its name of 'magnetic center.'
"If the magnetic center works rightly and if a man really searches, or even if he does not search actively yet feels rightly, he may meet another man who knows the way and who is connected... with a center from which proceed the ideas which created the magnetic center." - Peter Ouspensky (The Fourth Way)