Roslyn Young and Piers Messum – Gattegno’s four realms

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Evolution from the Big Bang to human beings

Roslyn Young

Roslyn Young

Piers Messum

Piers Messum








“From your window you see a sight which delights you. You can ask yourself: How can I understand all this in terms of energy? … energy is everywhere, energy is everything …”
Caleb Gattegno, L’énergie et les énergies, Vol.I, page 15

The starting hypothesis

As he worked on his energy-based description of humans living their lives, Gattegno realised that he could go further; that the ideas of Einstein and Darwin would enable him to develop an account of evolution that could begin with the Big Bang and encompass all human activity.

If Einstein is right, the whole universe is energy, transmuted or not into matter. And if Darwin is right, the living world is part of a process of evolution. Gattegno combined and extended these ideas to propose that at the most fundamental level, it is energy itself that evolves.

He described two laws and an axiom. He found that these operate everywhere in the universe. The first law is that of subordination by integration, the second is that of economy of energy. The axiom is that of temporal hierarchies.

Subordination by integration

The phenomenon of subordination by integration has been well known to biologists and neurologists since the turn of the twentieth century. They find it, for example, in embryonic development, where successive strata of the brain and spinal column are put into place, each layer being subordinated to the one which succeeds it, with this new one integrating the functioning of the older one. The result is a form of hierarchical control, illustrated by what happens when the head is cut off a chicken yet it runs around for some time afterwards. The layers of brain which inhibit running reflexes have been removed, releasing the running behaviour.

According to Marcault and Brosse (1939) and Gattegno following them, this principle is not only seen in biology. It also applies to the psychological development of man including the general structure of learning. And as we shall see, Gattegno further applies it to the evolution of energy. For him, it is a universal law manifesting itself whenever energy evolves into a new form. It defines the manner by which such changes take place: every time there is an evolutionary change, the new subordinates the old by integrating it.

A corollary of this law is that the process of evolution is not simply additive. When it is the case that the old integrates the new – that is, that the new is made to conform to the old and assimilated into it – then this is rightly seen as an additive process. Psychotic behaviour is an example of this. All new experience is assimilated into the psychosis and buttresses it, and evolution stops.

But the meaning of the law of subordination by integration is that the new subordinates the old by integrating it. What has already been created passes directly under the control of what is now being created; the old can now only express itself in a way which is compatible with the new, a way which does not disturb the integrity of the whole, governed as this now is by the new.

Once learning has been integrated, the learning process itself disappears; what is left is the product. Gattegno pointed out that the reason why we have so few memories of our early childhood is that we were learning know-hows, and each know-how is the memory of the time spent on learning it. This explains why small children, when asked what they did during the day at kindergarten, usually reply, “Nothing.” Throughout the day they are actively creating know-hows, and this does not leave anything that can be recounted later.

Integration, then, is a complex process which requires the remodelling of the whole so that integration by anything new produces a new whole, richer than the preceding whole.
In Gattegno’s proposals for understanding the evolution of the universe, the law of subordination by integration is seen operating at each new level.

Economy of energy

Gattegno further proposed that everywhere in the Universe evolution is a systematic search for ever more economic functionings, both in time and in energy. He often summed this up by saying simply “more for less”: the ‘more’ being more productivity and the ‘less’ being less time or energy – or both – needed to be spent in order to obtain a given result. In Man, this proposal expresses itself as a highly developed sense of economy which pervades all aspects of human life, and always has done. Almost every man-made item – from water pipes to trays to shopping lists, from the domestication of animals to all forms of transport – demonstrates man’s sensitivity to ‘yield’, to the relationship between what one gets and what one spends to get it.

Temporal hierarchies

Some events must take place in an order and this creates what Gattegno calls a ‘temporal hierarchy’. There could not have been molecules before there were atoms, nor cells before there were molecules. Babies must learn to sit before they learn to walk and they walk before they run.

It is evident that some things must happen before others become possible. Nevertheless, this axiom is of considerable importance because if we undertake any serious investigation of a process it requires us to establish the order of constituent events. This leads to important discoveries, particularly in the field of education where the events that make up learning and the order in which they must occur are often not identified at a sufficiently detailed level.

* * *

These laws and this axiom can be found as easily in a good lesson as in the history of the universe. With this introduction, we are now ready to begin looking at Gattegno’s model of evolution.

An introduction to Gattegno’s model of evolution

Gattegno invites us to study all phenomena as manifestations of energy. In his model, which he first presented in 1959, the story of evolution is the story of the evolution of energy, and this begins with the Big Bang rather than with the emergence of life. Gattegno described the process of evolution using a vertical vector to represent significant advances in the economics of energy, and a horizontal vector to represent the on-going exploration of the implications and possibilities that any such advance permits. He describes the nature of energy as being to explore and to create.

Cosmic energy – the first realm


Physicists presently situate the beginning of our universe at the Big Bang, around fourteen billion years ago. Energy first evolved through the creation of new elements. From hydrogen, the simplest atom, helium, lithium and so on were created by a process of what Gattegno called ‘complexation’, until all the nuclei of the elements known to exist in a natural state had come into existence. (Ninety-two were known when Gattegno was alive.) This was mainly elucidated by physicists during the first half of the twentieth century.

This first type of evolution continues to take place in stars. “I propose this hypothesis: A star is a cosmic laboratory in which energies are transformed into atoms.” (1982-1983 vol.I:33) To characterise energy at this stage in its development, Gattegno called it ‘cosmic energy’: energy which allows its own condensation into matter through processes we do not yet understand.

It might seem that this ‘horizontal’ evolution could continue indefinitely, with more and more complex elements appearing. But this is not what took place. All further elements begin to disintegrate as soon as they come into existence, as demonstrated in laboratories around the world. Energy can, therefore, no longer continue this type of evolution and finds itself blocked. This is “the first impasse”, the end of a horizontal evolution.


The way for evolution to continue is by means of a qualitatively different approach, a ‘vertical leap’ in Gattegno’s terminology. This was the emergence of molecules, from simple assemblies of two atoms that appeared very early on, through to proteins which are made up of whole chains of atoms. Molecules allow energy to engage itself in a new horizontal evolution, very different from the preceding one.

In the view I am presenting to you here, a view of cosmic energy objectifying itself, the molecule is a new adventure. It is something quite different from the adventure of the atom … at the atomic level, matter is linked by ‘the strong force’ in order to create atomic nuclei. Here, cosmic energy expresses itself as two atoms which go towards each other and which attach one to the other electrically. (1982-1983 vol.I:62)

This evolution began with simple linkages but on earth it has also created large molecules comprised of carbon plus a few other atoms, studied in organic chemistry. We find molecules like DNA made up of thousands and thousands of atoms.

Gattegno pointed out that certain features of the first horizontal evolution are also to be found in the evolution of molecules.

Firstly, in molecular evolution the quantities of energy required are considerably less than what was required at the atomic level; much less energy is needed to link two atoms of hydrogen to an atom of oxygen than to create the atoms themselves. This is an example of the law of economy of energy.
Secondly, molecular evolution can take place as long as it is possible to create new molecules which are bigger and bigger, more and more complex, but there comes a time when the molecules are so big that they break down, and evolution finds itself once again in an impasse. What takes place is a new vertical leap.

Vital energy- the second and third realms

Energy evolved by taking a new form, vital energy, and thus a new way of being, the cell.

The cell introduces a way of maintaining a considerable number of molecules in close proximity on a semi-permanent basis, thus allowing a new range of processes to take place through the interaction of these molecules amongst themselves. Vital energy gives itself two directions of exploration, the domain of form exemplified by plants which is the second, vegetal realm, and then that of behaviour exemplified by animals, the third realm.

The law of subordination and integration describes the relationship between these realms. Elements are combined to produce molecules in the first realm; both elements and molecules are used by cells in the second realm to produce forms; elements, molecules and forms are used in the third realm in the production of constellations of behaviours. Evolution is a cumulative process.
Each vertical leap allows a new horizontal evolution to unfold.

The second realm – the realm of cells and plants

One of the descriptions that Gattegno gave of the second or vegetal realm was that, “the universe of plants is the total number of possible attempts at producing forms from molecules.” (1982-1983 vol.I:276) Molecules borrowed from the environment are put together to create forms. As botanists recognise, what distinguishes one plant from another and from all others is its form.

In the second realm,

… form takes precedence in the manner an electromagnetic field affects the positions, distances, and general configurations of sets of iron filings, without touching the physical or chemical attributes of matter. (1982b XI 5:12)

Two problems must be solved: how to maintain a form over generations, and how a change of form is possible. The first of these is studied in the field of genetics but Gattegno pointed out that form is also maintained through the use of molecules with qualities that are adapted to the form required by a given cell. “If you look at the molecular content of [rectangular or linear bacteria] you will see that they use components which are noticeably straight and long.” (1982-1983 vol.I:275)

However, he further argued that something else was needed: vital energy.

Plants are the realm of cells in which the new form of cosmic energy, called ‘vital energy’, acts upon molecular energy, not only to make more and new molecules, but also to organize them in space so that this aggregate remain together for some time. A plant takes from the environment the molecules it will keep in its cells, while maintaining its own form as its characteristics. Vital energy is also needed to produce new forms, starting with whatever components are available. (1982b XI 5:12)

For Gattegno, vital energy is a new form of energy which subordinates the previous forms, molecular and cosmic energy, and integrates them. It is the mechanism through which form is actively explored.

Evolution in the vegetable kingdom is the movement of vital energy from one viable form to another, keeping what works, and experimenting with properties capable of being acted upon, but [which] were not specially involved in the activities of previous species. If the experiment proves that such properties are a province of vital energy, a new plant is generated. If not, there is no trace left behind of that trial. The vegetable kingdom is only made up of the successful experiments of vital energy. Its immense variety can teach us how forms evolve, and how much room vital energy found for its trials upon objectified cosmic energy (atoms and molecules) as well as upon other forms working on the same matter. (1982b XI 5:13)

For Gattegno, “vital energy manifests itself in a great many forms; there is not just one single form of vital energy, just as there is not only one single form of cosmic energy.” (1982-1983 vol.II:31)

Just as cosmic energy can exist as chemical energy, gravitational energy, electromagnetic energy, heat or several other forms of energy, so vital energy can exist in the forms of all the plants which exist or have ever existed. For Gattegno (1982-1983 vol.I:301), vital energy is freer than cosmic energy because it can choose the forms it will take.

Among the unsolved problems of biology, Gattegno (1982-1983 vol.II:29) cited the fact that no one yet knew how sap moves up to the top of a tall tree. Atmospheric pressure can take it up 10 metres and capillary tension can move it up another few metres, but something else is necessary if the sap is to climb to heights of 80 metres, as it does in the Giant Sequoias of California. As long as one thinks in terms of mechanics, there was no solution to this problem. But, since the tubes and the capillaries in which the sap climbs are living, one can well imagine that vital energy has devised a mechanism that takes advantages of the properties of living matter.

In this realm as in the cosmic realm, the law of economy of energy is at work. Much less energy is spent in order to hold the plants in their various shapes than is required to keep molecules together. One only needs to separate each into their constituent parts to realize this.

It becomes clear that the effects of evolution are cumulative. Once a solution has been found for any given problem, this solution is retained. Thus, for example, once sexuality appeared at the level of the vegetal realm, it was maintained in the animal and human realms.

Gattegno rejects Darwin’s hypothesis of evolution by natural selection in favour of a deliberate exploration of possibilities, since, for him, it is not possible to imagine that the huge variety of plants that we know is the result of chance mutations.

Almost everyone … adheres to the Darwinian line. There is an alternative, … it is that the energies look for all the possible forms and, from these, some are viable, others are not. Or we can say: “those which survive are viable; the others are not.” (1982-1983 vol.II:83)

Gattegno (1982-1983 vol.II:75) points to certain plants which send a root down vertically into the soil. If the root encounters an obstacle, it tries to push it aside. If it cannot do so, it tries to dissolve it chemically. If this does not succeed, the root goes off horizontally until it can get around the obstacle. But then, instead of going down vertically from the new position, the root goes back horizontally until it is under its starting place. Only then does it begin going down vertically again. What struggle for survival can explain this?

The conclusion that Gattegno drew from this and other phenomena that would otherwise appear to be anomalous, is that plants demonstrate awareness. Otherwise, such phenomena would not be possible. The awareness demonstrated by plants is not as developed as that shown by human beings or animals, but it is sufficient for what plants have to do in order to survive. Climbing plants have to recognise the existence of a support on which to climb. Plants which adapt their way of living to the seasons must sense changes of temperature and light conditions as they take place. Those which follow the sun must know where the sun is at any given moment.

We should notice that in each realm, there are entities which foreshadow what will be found in the following realm. Thus, in the realm of molecules, viruses exist. These are large molecules which associate themselves with other molecules before breaking up, only to associate themselves anew with still other molecules, a system which foreshadows reproduction. Viruses are the most complex molecules known, but they are not yet living creatures.

The third realm – the realm of animals

The third realm is that of the exploration of behaviours, expressing a specific energy called instinct. Gattegno proposes that, “each species of animal is an instinct which gave itself its form in order to survive.” (1982-1983 vol.II:104)

In the case of animals, vital energy is subordinated to an animal energy, instinct, which integrates it. Animals all have a form, since they are the product of vital energy, but they can impose changes on this form – within certain limits – which are the result of their behaviours. The forms generated are those best adapted for the behaviours of the species.

In the study of the third realm,

[W]e have … the difficult task of seeing how vital energy is at the service of instinct, what represents the spectrum of instincts, and how it is possible to understand that so many instincts, so many species, exist; what makes a species change into another, and how we are going to work on these data in order to describe the whole of animal life. (1982-1983 vol.II:105)


How can one conceive of instinct as energy? In a comparison of unicellular plants and unicellular animals, we see instinct at work. If one studies a bacterium and an amoeba under a microscope, one sees immediately that the amoeba moves out of the field of vision and it is necessary to constantly readjust the microscope in order to see it, while the bacterium stays in place. It is not easy to learn how to move. For Gattegno, we are looking at a new energy at work.

The amoeba manages to understand, from the point of view of its energy, what it must do to throw ahead a part of itself. It changes shape, as if it had the choice, the right, to put out any part of itself like an advancing foot. (1982-1983 vol.II:112-113)

In other words, the amoeba has a behaviour and this is what distinguishes it from the bacterium.
Instinct is an energy. Clearly it is not the energy the animal consumes in order to live, nor is it the individual animal’s ‘quantum’, which allows each animal to be an individual within its species. Rather, instinct circumscribes the animal’s constellation of behaviours. It is more labile than the vital energy of plants, whose action on form is slower to evolve.

The animal quantum, when it frees itself of instinct, will become the self in humans.

Evolution in this realm occurs when an individual quantum of energy, an animal,

… requests the instinct to adjust to singular circumstances which may reveal to the quantum a possibility not yet encountered in life. … By staying with this revelation and its repeated use, the instinct is altered by the objectivation of the new behavior on the pre-existing form. This, in turn, becomes distinctive and second nature. Other individuals of the species who witness this behavior, understanding how their quantum can affect their use of their form, will demonstrate that the boundaries, associated with the initial instinct, can be transcended and a new animal generated. This new animal will form a new species having a distinctive instinct which includes the energizing of the new behavior. Through this instinct the individuals of this species will separate themselves from those from which they originally stemmed. (1982b:17)

For Gattegno, ” … the evolution of instinct consists in creating the inventory of all behaviours and all the possible constellations of behaviours.” (1982-1983 vol.II:116) There will remain all the experiments which are a success; those which are not viable will lead to extinction.

Each constellation of behaviours is characteristic of a species of animal, and each individual belongs to a species if its behaviours fall within that characteristic constellation of behaviours. However the more evolved the animal, the more freedom it displays. Highly evolved animals such as those one sees on the African savannah live quite freely within the constraints of their instinct and can show widely varying behaviours. Any individual animal’s behaviours are in harmony with its instinct but are its alone. Hence, it is the individual who has the capacity to evolve rather than the species.

A behaviour is visible from the outside and can be described. It is the job of naturalists to create the inventory of species by giving us the inventory of constellations of behaviours. For example, such and such a type of bird is identical to its neighbour except that it eats insects and not grains; thus it belongs to a different species.

Instinct determines, among other things, what an animal perceives. A lion in a pasture does not see food around it and will die of hunger unless a goat happens to come along. A goat, in a herd of goats, does not perceive the other goats as food and it will die of hunger if it does not find a pasture. Similarly, the perception of what constitutes a danger is determined by instinct. In animals, perception is functional.

The mechanism of the creation of species

In animal evolution, there is, once again, a considerable reduction in the quantity of energy used to maintain the system. Animals sustain their lives by finding their food around them and this gives them sufficient energy to undertake exploration of the environment. The more advanced the animal is in the scale of species, the greater the gain in energy. This energy can be used for activities which are compatible with the soma of the animal, even if they are outside the usual constellation of behaviours.

Very evolved animals even have free time; time which they use, for example, for play or for the education of their offspring, and also for exploration which can lead them to new discoveries and perhaps to the creation of a new species.

As soon as one accepts that there is an additional energy, one is in a position to see what is called ‘adaptation’; this is the capacity of the animal to enter into contact with contingencies which were not foreseen in the animal’s heredity. (1982-1983 vol.II:188)

In the third realm again, Gattegno rejected Darwin’s theory of evolution. He did not consider that the life of an animal could be reduced to just the struggle for survival and the reproduction of the species. To think in those terms is to miss seeing what any one animal does with its time. There is some space between surviving and living one’s life, and this is where each individual animal finds a certain liberty of action which allows it to explore and to discover the limits and the frontiers of its instinct. “The life of an animal is to do everything that is compatible with its instinct, not only to survive and reproduce.” (1982-1983 vol.II:129-130) For Gattegno, the proliferation of species was not due to an adaptation to the environment, but to individuals who went beyond what their instinct dictated. Individuals, and not species, are the agents of evolution; when one looks for a mechanism which could allow species to evolve, one sees that it is not possible to conceive of species being the agents of evolution.

Each individual that goes beyond what its instinct dictates can produce a new species because the animal quantum is in direct contact with the soma it gave itself and can modify its genetic structure. The modification of genetic structure does not demand a lot of energy. For random mutation, biologists have supposed that radiation is sufficient.

Gattegno rejected the notion that spontaneous and externally induced changes to DNA cause the mutation of species, because he did not believe that the immense variety one can see in animals can be the fruit of sheer chance. Instead, he argued that the energy necessary to effect these changes is very, very small, and that an animal can mobilise enough energy to produce them at will. The creation of a new species is willed by the animal quantum which lives the adventure of finding itself suddenly outside its instinct and which modifies its DNA on the molecular level to perpetuate itself.

One cannot fail to be struck by the fact that the soma of animals is always so perfectly adapted to the expression of the instinct of the species. The law of subordination and integration functions here too. Instinct integrates the vital energy of form, the previous realm, while subordinating it. Instinct is present in the first cell, and works at the level of the energies of the cell. “The soma is the expression of the instinct.” (1982-1983 vol.II:197) Instinct is not simply added to the animal once it is formed. When one conceives of an animal as an energy manifesting itself as a constellation of behaviours giving itself a form suited to expressing them, one can understand how the energy of the instinct can produce an appropriate form.

The energies present are in a hierarchy. Instinct integrates vital energy which integrates the cosmic energy present in the molecules – for the animal is also of the first and second realms.

It is possible to change the form because instinct has taken command of vital energy; instinct uses vital energy automatically, just as vital energy uses molecules automatically. (1982-1983 vol.II:139)

In this way, “we place permanence, maintenance, continuation in the genetic system; we see variation in the instinct, there we see what can create something different.” (1982-1983 vol.II:204)

The attributes of animals

Gattegno grants animals an awareness. “Two sheep know they are themselves and not ‘that one is the other’; it is the same for two ants or two lice because if one eats, the other is not satiated!” (1982-1983 vol.II:153)

Each animal knows when it is hungry. It is aware of its hunger, of the fact that it looks for food, that it eats and that it is no longer hungry. It is not necessary for this awareness to be very developed for us to accept that it exists. It exists in all animals, whatever their stage of evolution, and it is necessary and sufficient for the survival of the animal.
Similarly, Gattegno grants animals a sense of time and a will; they prove this when they wait patiently in front of a hole until their prey comes out, and also when they mobilise themselves to seize it and when they leap. These acts – the act of not leaping as well as that of leaping – require the same mobilisation as similar acts in human beings.

Genetics and the role of DNA

Gattegno’s model does not deny a role to DNA, which gives a spider what it needs to be a web maker. However, DNA cannot show this spider how to weave this web around this nail in this corner of this wall. The spider must have enough awareness to be able to do so. DNA makes available billions of years of evolution, putting them at the service of each living creature at the beginning of its life as an individual. But each creature lives its life with an awareness sufficient for its needs.

Heredity by the transmission of genes from one generation to another is not in doubt. But it has never been proved that this is the only way of transmitting information from one generation to another.

Now that animals have managed to inhabit an astounding variety of ecological niches over the surface of the earth, the way for energy to evolve further is for it to make another vertical leap, to create a new realm, that of humans.

The four realms

The fourth realm – human beings

[A]n understanding of evolution in humans cannot be an extension of that which has been acceptable for plants and animals. (1982b:10)

Human beings create a realm by becoming aware that one does not have to live within an instinct as animals do. Humans have no instinct and are not limited to any particular constellation of behaviours. They can choose their behaviours and change them at will, as many times as they want to during a lifetime. They can choose to reproduce or not, to be vegetarians, fruit eaters or omnivores; to live in the desert or on the plains… They are singularly free to live as they decide, even if they choose to remain within a culture that appears to determine many of their behaviours. For this reason, it follows that each human is a species in his own right, since each person’s behaviours are idiosyncratic and unique to him.

There are as many species of humans as there are humans.

The passage to humanity took place the day one of these animals … recognized itself as an energy which was not instinctual; he identified with his free energy and the relation with his soma was no longer: “I gave myself a soma to represent my behaviours,” but: “I have an energy at my disposition which allows me to use this soma to create behaviours.” And thus, we are compelled to say that each individual is a species. (1982-1983 vol.II:271)

Gattegno calls the free energy mentioned above ‘the self’. Once the self comes into existence, behaviours continue to exist but they appear through culture, learning and choice rather than through heredity; humans can change their behaviours at will.

All evolution has first taken place in individuals and, when possible, [been] passed on to others by various means of heredity. In humans, however, there are only individuals. Thus, evolution simply means experimenting with awareness individually, deciding whether to affect or not to affect all one’s life by the transfer of what one has managed to become aware of. Thus evolution (i.e. conscious evolution) is deliberate only in the fourth realm. (1982b:10)

From the massive amounts of energy involved in the earliest stage of evolution, Gattegno saw a progressive increase in yield with each vertical leap – more for less – to the point where the energy of the fourth realm is that of awareness and costs no more than human thought. Because awarenesses require so little energy, Gattegno sometimes called them ‘nothings’.

[Man] can polarize his mind so that when working on energy he sees ‘energy’ as ‘energies’, the plural which indicates a deeper and more varied approach to a recently discovered entity (about 100 years old) whose presence in men’s minds has transformed his outer and inner environments. This deeper approach may lead him to see the whole of evolution as the story of the evolution of energy over time, allowing successive increases in yield to result from smaller expenditures (a clear economic viewpoint) ending with ‘the dynamics of nothings’, seen as the present day stage of that enquiry. (1984 XIII 3:5)

There has been a similar gain in time:

It was necessary to use cosmic lengths of time to do the jobs which involved:

  1. atomic or molecular changes;
  2. an expansion of the working of form to test viability;
  3. an alteration in sets of behaviors by adding a new one and then testing viability with it.

However, such lengths of time are no longer needed on earth to feed back to humans that a human proposal (e.g. to use human energy to starve a behavior or enhance it) is open to all. In one life it is possible to know, sometimes in a few minutes, whether or not that which comes to one’s mind is compatible with the then prevailing conditions. From such feedback, one can decide whether or not to remain in contact with that which was being contemplated. (1982b:20)

Gattegno was fond of saying to teachers who might be tempted to underestimate their students, that all human beings are at the summit of thirteen billion years of evolution, in which Nature has only kept what was successful.


Newsletters are referenced below by their date, volume and issue number (e.g. 1982 XII.1).
1982b XI.5 Energy, time, evolutionary impasses and man (Issuu)
1984 XIII.3 Homo Economicus (PDF)

1982-1983 L’Energie et les Energies, séminaire. Une Ecole Pour Demain, Lyon. Publication restreinte. Trois volumes. pp. 316, 340, 400.

Marcault, J.-E. & Brosse, T. (1939) L’éducation de demain. Paris: Alcan

Further reading

A Reconsideration of the Sciences (Issuu)– Newsletter XIV.4, April 1985

© 2011 Roslyn Young & Piers Messum
This article was first published as Chapter 9 of How We Learn and How We Should be Taught, Young, R. and Messum, P. 2011. London: Duo Flumina.


Roslyn Young was born in Australia and after obtaining a BA, Dip Ed. she taught English literature in Australian schools for a few years.

She moved to France in 1967 and worked at the University of Franche-Comté in the Applied Linguistics Centre, teaching English and sometimes French in intensive courses, from 1968 until she retired, She met Caleb Gattegno for the first time in 1971 in Geneva where she saw him teach a Chinese lesson. This was the most intense experience she had ever had in a classroom and she knew immediately that she wanted to be able to teach like that.

Roslyn did her doctoral thesis on Gattegno, his model and its relevance to his work in language teaching. She has published articles on teaching and the Silent Way.

Roslyn worked for Une Education Pour Demain from the beginning of the 80’s until 2015 doing teacher training. (Teacher training can be anything between a two day course on a specific subject and a five year programme designed to produce a new generation of teacher-trainers.)

With Piers Messum, she presented Gattegno: Visible and Tangible Learning at the ATM 2011 Conference.


Piers Messum read mathematics and law at Cambridge University. He worked as a computer programmer in London before going to Japan to teach English. There, he learnt Japanese by the Silent Way with Fusako Allard, and attended his first workshop with Caleb Gattegno.

Returning to London, he spent 6 years as a software salesman before starting to teach English by the Silent Way. In 1995 he began a PhD at University College London jointly in the departments of Phonetics and Physiology. His thesis, The role of imitation in learning to pronounce was accepted in 2007. Among other things, it demonstrated that some of the techniques Gattegno devised for teaching pronunciation in the Silent Way could be justified by reference to how children learn their first language.

His research is summarised on his website, “How do young children learn to pronounce? Not by imitation …”, where his articles for language teachers can be downloaded.

Three times each year, he organises a reading group for Gattegno’s work in London.

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