est: A Philosophical Assessment

Michael E. Zimmerman
March, 1982

Est: A Philosophical Assessment

The purpose of this report is to provide a philosophical assessment of est training. I first took the training in New Orleans in January, 1981, and reviewed it as an observer in Sacramento in February, 1982.
My analysis of the training is guided by my understanding of the philosophy Of Martin Heidegger, existential psychotherapy, and Eastern religions. The following appraisal arises not only from my theoretical training as a philosopher, however, but also from my own personal experience. This report is by no means exhaustive; much more could have been said about the topics covered below. Moreover, many more
issues could have been dealt with. Because of my own philosophical expertise and personal interest, however, I chose to focus my attention on those aspects of the training that bear on the topic of authenticity. I hope that this report will prove to be of some help in resolving whatever problems remain in what is already an excellent training.

My analysis of the training addresses itself, in part, to four questions posed by Jack Mantos:

1) Can the authenticity of the training be established more directly and explicitly at the start of the training?

2) How can one speak more effectively of the Self as emptiness or nothingness?

3) How is one to understand the notion of resoluteness i.e., the notion that the authentic Self takes a stand on itself as the context of contexts?

4) Is there too much subjectivism in the idea that we “create” our own experience?

Answers to these questions will be found in the body of the text, a summary of which follows.

Summary of Findings:

1) The “authenticity” of the training may be more firmly established initially if the trainer explicitly asserts that the trainer and support team are prepared to enter into agreement with the trainees. The agreement would be that everyone give 100% of himself or herself to the training.

2) There is a tendency to speak as if the training will provide more “satisfaction” in life, but if satisfaction is made the goal by trainees, they will never find it. Satisfaction ensues; it cannot
be pursued. At times, the training conveys the impression that the reason for keeping one’s agreements is to gain satisfaction. Such a utilitarian view of behavior is inimitable to the fundamentally sound view, expressed elsewhere in the training, that the key is to act impeccably: from this, everything else–including satisfaction as well as unhappiness–follows.

3) More explicit treatment of death, and the attendant phenomena of anxiety and guilt, are needed to provide a more complete account of human existence. Anxiety is constriction of the self that occurs in
the face of the disclosure of mortality, but only such disclosure enables us to make the leap from mechanicalness or inauthenticity to aliveness or authenticity. Guilt is the ontological self-corrective
that reminds a person that he or he is failing to repay the loan of life by experiencing everything there is to experience. Guilt and anxiety call the individual to the resolution or decision to live.

4) Resoluteness refers to the decision of the individual to experience whatever there is to experience. Resoluteness (Entschlossenheit) is authentic openness or disclosedness (Erschlossenheit). The decision in favor of being openness is a free choice to be the freedom that we already are, ultimaletly, freedom is not a human possession, but instead the openness or no-thingness into which we are thrown. Human existence or Dasein constitutes the clearing or openness in which the Being of beings manifests itself.

5) While the training currently makes some reference to time and temporality, a more thorough discussion is probably in order. Such a discussion would show that the leap from inauthenticity to authenticity
involves a transformation in temporality: from linearity to the circling temporality called eternity or “Now.” Linear time arises from the constriction of human openness to that of the ego/mind, which reveals things merely as objects to be exploited for human ends. Circular or eternal time arises when human existence opens up and lets beings be just what they are.

6) The training needs to define more .carefully what it means by the notion that I am responsible for all my’ experience.’ that :r am God in my universe. Apparently derived in part from Hindu doctrines of Atman or the Transcendental Self, this conception of responsibility is too easily confused with more ordinary notions. The notion that I somehow create my experience is metaphysical speculation that cannot be verified. Perhaps it would be more appropriate to redefine creating. Instead of speaking of creating as a kind of producing or making, we could say that creating is a letting-be. The former notion of creating
is masculine and typically Western, while the latter is feminine and more in line with Eastern views of reality. We could then say that I am responsible for all of my experience in the sense that I am called
on to experience whatever it is that manifests itself within the openness that I call me.” The true “I,” of course, is not ego/mind but the temporal-historical clearing called Dasein.

7) While the training speaks of everything/nothing, Heidegger speaks of Being/nothingness. Although what both parties mean by nothingness or nothing is similar, they differ considerably on what they mean Being and everything. For Heidegger, Being does not mean the totality of things, but the presencing or self-manifesting of beings. To identify Being with every thing to make a category-mistake.

8) Although the training currently emphasizes the importance of participating and sharing with other human beings, the implicit idea of the training is that we humans should share ourselves with all
beings. Hence, the Hunger Project should naturally lead into the Planet Project designed to save the earth from environmental destruction.

9) Heidegger claimed that everything great happens from within a heritage or tradition. Perhaps it is time for est to acknowledge that it is part of the great wisdom traditions of East and West. One goal of est would then be to empower people to revitalize their own traditions.

10) Miscellaneous Observations.

11) Conclusion.
12) Appendices.
A) Michael E. Zimmerman, “Heidegger’s ‘Existentialism’
B) Michael E. Zimmerman, “Towards a Heideggerean Ethos
for Radical Environmentalism.”

Read the Full Paper

est Outcome Study

In early 1974, an exhaustive survey “A Self-Report Survey: Preliminary study of Participants in Erhard Seminars Training” by R. Ornstein, C. Swencionis, A. Deikman, and R. Morris was completed by 10.5% of the est graduate population. The survey asked graduates to report their experience of health and well-being after the est training and their experience of health and well-being the year before the training…. Respondents reported strong positive health and well-being changes since taking the est Standard Training, especially in the areas of psychological health and well-being.

Est Outcome Study, by Ornstein, Swencionis, Deikman & Morris

Breaking Out of the Box

Here is an excerpt from Breaking Out of The Box which was first published in the fall 1989 issue of Benchmark Magazine: “What great executives will do in the 1990s, says Erhard, is to create different paradigms that are appropriate to the commitments in various parts of the organization. “They will be able to shape organization-wide paradigms that are appropriate to the moving sands, changing markets, changing competition and introduction of new technologies.” Erhard says that instead of waiting for a new paradigm to become apparent, we can create and invent futures that “were not going to happen anyway…The most interesting part of management is the part that’s committed to what wasn’t predictable…” more

Being Empowered

What do you mean when you say, “People don’t know they make a difference?”

“I mean literally that people think the choices they make in life don’t make any difference. They feel as if the decisions they make don’t matter much. In fact, we live in a kind of unseen agreement that nobody really makes any difference. When you do make a difference you are empowered. People are often unwilling to be empowered.”

Why would people be unwilling to be empowered?

“If you are empowered, you suddenly have a lot of work to do because you have the power to do it. If you are unempowered, you are less dominated by the opportunities in front of you. In other words, you have an excuse to not do the work. You have a way out. You have the security of being able to do what you have always done and get away.  If you are empowered, suddenly you must step out, innovate and create.  The cost, however, of being unempowered is people’s self-expression.  They always have the feeling that they have something in them that they never really gave, never really expressed.  By simply revealing the payoffs and costs of being unempowered, people have a choice.  They can begin to see that it is possible to make the choice to be empowered rather than to function without awareness.  Empowerment requires a breakthrough and in part that breakthrough is a kind of shift from looking for a leader to a sense of personal responsibility.  The problems we now have in communities and societies are going to be resolved only when we are brought together by a common sense that each of us is visionary.  Each of us must come to the realization that we can function and live at the level of vision rather than following some great leader’s vision.  Instead of looking for a great leader, we are in an era where each of us needs to find the great leader in ourselves.”

Werner Erhard Interviewed by Loretta Ferrier
Scene Magazine/September-October 1982

Current Work of Werner Erhard

Werner Erhard has been creating transformational models and applications for organizations and individuals for more than 40 years.  He is a leading thinker currently engaged in rigorous examination and presentation of his ideas in academic and corporate communities.   He provides new paradigms to thinkers and practitioners in fields as far ranging as philosophy, business, education, psychotherapy, third world development, medicine, conflict resolution, and community building. Werner Erhard has lectured at universities and schools such as Harvard University, The University of Rochester, Erasmus Academie, University of Southern California, and MIT’s Sloan School of Management.  Werner Erhard’s current work includes BEING A LEADER AND THE EFFECTIVE EXERCISE OF LEADERSHIP An Ontological / Phenomonological Model and  INTEGRITY: A POSITIVE MODEL THAT INCORPORATES THE NORMATIVE PHENOMENA OF MORALITY, ETHICS, AND LEGALITY

Transformation: The Life and Legacy of Werner Erhard

Transformation: The Life and Legacy of Werner Erhard
Symon Productions, Inc. & Eagle Island Films, Inc.
Robyn Symon Writer, Producer and Director

Watch the full length film here.

If not now, when?

“We can choose to be audacious enough to take responsibility for the entire human family. We can choose to make our love for the world what our lives are really about. Each of us has the opportunity, the privilege, to make a difference in creating a world that works for all of us. It will require courage, audacity and heart. It is much more radical than a revolution – it is the beginning of a transformation in the quality of life on our planet. What we create together is a relationship in which our work can show up as making a difference in people’s lives. I welcome the unprecedented opportunity for us to work globally on that which concerns us all as human beings.

If not you, who?
If not now, when?
If not here, where?”

Werner Erhard

Werner Erhard Archives

Werner Erhard is a lecturer, author, consultant, and the creator of one of the most influential technologies of the last 30 years, the technology of transformation. The web page at provides a collection of historical articles written by or about Werner Erhard and his work between 1970 and 1991.

Assessment of the Philosophical Significance of The est Training

Assessment of the Philosophical Significance of The est Training, by Hubert Dreyfus

“In the course of the training it became progressively clear to me that the experience underlying the training and the conceptualization of this experience have deep affinities with the phenomena presented and analyzed in Martin Heidegger’s Being and Time.”

“…It is directly manifest in the training that est embodies a powerful and coherent truth which transforms the quality of the lives of those who experience it. Moreover, this truth contains radically new insights into the nature of human beings.”  (Courtesy of

Werner Erhard on Power


By Werner Erhard, March 21, 1983

Your power is a function of velocity, that is to say, your power is a function of the rate at which you translate intention into reality. Most of us disempower ourselves by finding a way to slow, impede, or make more complex than necessary the process of translating intention into reality.

There are two factors worth examining in our impairing velocity, in our disempowering ourselves.

The first is the domain of reasonableness. When we deal with our intentions or act to realize our intentions from reasonableness, we are in the realm of slow, impede and complicate. When we are oriented around the story or the narrative, the explanations, the justifications, we are oriented around that in which there is no velocity, no power.

Results are black and white. In life, one either has results (one’s intentions realized) or one has the reason, story, explanations, and justifications. The person of power does not deal in explanations. This way of being might be termed management by results (not management for results but management by results). The person of power manages him or herself by results and creates a space or mood of results in which to interact with others.

The other factor to be addressed is time. Now never seems to be the right time to act. The right time is always in the future. Usually this appears in the guise of “after I (or we) do so and so, then it will be the right time to act”; or “after so and so occurs, then it will be the right time to act”; or “when so and so occurs, then it will be the right time to act.” The guise includes “gathering all the facts,” “getting the plan down,” “figuring out ‘X’,” “getting ready,” etc.

Since now is the only time you have in reality and now will never seem to be the right time to act, one may as well act now. Even though “it isn’t the right time,” given that the “right time” will never come, acting now is, at the least, powerful (even if you don’t get to be right). Most people wait for the decisive moment, whereas people of power are decisive in the moment. – Werner Erhard

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