Tertium Organum, by P.D. Ouspensky, , at sacred-texts.com
IN naming his book Tertium Organum Ouspensky reveals at a stroke that astounding audacity which characterizes his thought throughout—an audacity which we are accustomed to associate with the Russian mind in all its phases. Such a title says, in effect: "Here is a book which will reorganize all knowledge. The Organon of Aristotle formulated the laws under which the subject thinks; the Novum Organum of Bacon, the laws under which the object may be known; but The Third Canon of Thought existed before these two, and ignorance of its laws does not justify their violation. Tertium Organum shall guide and govern human thought henceforth."
How passing strange, in this era of negative thinking, of timid philosophizing, does such a challenge sound! And yet it has the echo in it of something heard before—what but the title of another volume, Hinton's A New Era of Thought?
Ouspensky's Tertium Organum and Hinton's A New Era of Thought present substantially the same philosophy (though Hinton's book only sketchily), arrived at by the same route—mathematics.
Here is food for thought. In the words of Philip Henry Wynne, "Mathematics possesses the most potent and perfect symbolism the intellect knows; and this symbolism has offered for generations certain concepts (of which hyper-dimensionality is only one) whose naming and envisagement by the human intellect is perhaps its loftiest achievement. Mathematics presents the highest certitudes known to the intellect, and is becoming more and more the final arbiter and interpreter in physics, chemistry and astronomy. Like Aaron's rod it threatens to swallow all other knowledges as fast as they assume organized form. Mathematics has already taken possession of great provinces of logic and psychology—will it embrace ethics, religion and philosophy?"
In Tertium Organum mathematics enters and pervades the field of philosophy; but so adroitly, so silently as it were, that one hardly
knows that it is there. It dwells more in Ouspensky's method than in his matter, because for the most part the mathematical ideas necessary for an understanding of his thesis are such as any intelligent high school student can comprehend. The author puts to himself and to the reader certain questions, propounds certain problems, which have baffled the human mind for thousands of years—the problems of space, time, motion, causality, of free will and determination—and he deals with them according to the mathematical method: that is all. He has sensed the truth that the problem of mathematics is the problem of the world order, and as such must deal with every aspect of human life.
Mathematics is a terrible word to those whose taste and training have led them into other fields, so lest the non-mathematical reader should be turned back at the very threshold, deciding too hastily that the book is not for him, let me dwell rather on its richly humanistic aspect.
To such as ask no "key to the enigmas of the world," but only some light to live by, some mitigation of the daily grind, some glimpse of some more enlightened polity than that which rules the world today, this book should have an appeal. The author has thrown overboard all the jargon of all the schools; he uses the language of common sense, and of every day; his illustrations and figures of speech are homely, taken from the life of every day. He simply says to the reader, "Come let us reason together," and leads him away from the haunted jungle of philosophical systems and metaphysical theories, out into the light of day, there to contemplate and to endeavor to understand those primal mysteries which puzzle the mind of a child or of a savage no less than that of the sophisticated and super-subtle ponderer on the enigmas of the world. Not that Ouspensky is a trafficker in the obvious—far from it: those who know most, think most, feel most, will get most out of his book—but a great sanity pervades his pages, and he never leads away into labyrinths where guide and follower alike lose their way and fail to come to any end.
Leaving the average reader out of account for the moment, there are certain others whom the book should particularly interest—if only in the way of repulsion.
First of all come the mathematicians and the theoretical physicists, for they already, without knowing it, have invaded that "dark backward and abysm of time" which the Ouspenskian philosophy lights up—and are by way of losing themselves there.
That is to say, in certain of their calculations, they are employing four mutually interchangeable coördinates, three of space and one of time. In other words, they use time as though it were a dimension of space. Ouspensky tells them the reason they are able to do this. Time is the fourth dimension of space imperfectly sensed—apprehended by consciousness successively, and thereby creating the temporal illusion.
Moreover, mathematicians are perforce concerning themselves with magnitudes to which the ordinary logic no longer applies. Ouspensky presents a new logic, or rather, he presents anew an ancient logic—the logic of intuition—removing at a stroke all of the nightmare aspects, the preposterous paradoxes of the new mathematics, which by reason of its extraordinary development has shattered the old logic, as a growing oak shatters the containing jar.
It is from the philosophic camp, no doubt, that the book will receive its sharpest criticism, on account of the author's lèse-majesté toward so many of the crowned kings of philosophic thought, and his devastating assault on positivism—that inevitable by-product of our materialistic way of looking at the world. His attempt to prove the Kantian problem—the subjectivity of space and time—doubtless will be acutely challenged, and with some chance of success, because the two chapters devoted to this are perhaps the least convincing of the book. But no one heretofore has even attempted to demonstrate absolutely or successfully to controvert the staggering proposition advanced by Kant regarding space and time as forms of consciousness.
Whatever the verdict of the philosophical pundits of the day and hour, whether favorable or otherwise, Ouspensky is sure of a place in the hierarchy of philosophers, for he has essayed to solve the most profound problems of human existence by the aid of the binocular vision of the mathematician and the mystic. Starting from the irreducible minimum of knowledge, he has carried philosophy into regions not hitherto explored.
To persons of an artistic or devotional bent the book will be as water in the desert. These, always at a disadvantage among the purely practical-minded, by whom they are overwhelmingly out-numbered, will find in Ouspensky a champion whose weapon is mathematical certitude, the very thing by which the practical-minded swear. These he puts to rout, holds up to ridicule, and applauds every effort to escape into the "world of the wondrous."
But most of all Ouspensky will be loved by all true lovers, for his chapter on the subject of love. We have had Schopenhauer on love, and Freud on love, but what dusty answers do they give to the soul of a lover! Edward Carpenter comes much nearer the mark, but Ouspensky penetrates to its very center. It is because our loves are so dampened by our egotisms, our cynicisms and our cowardices that we rot and smoulder instead of bursting into purifying flame. Just as Goethe's Werther, with its sex-sentimentality, is said to have provoked an epidemic of suicides, so may Tertium Organum—which restores love to that high heaven from whence descend every beauty and benison—inaugurate a renascence of love and joy.
From one point of view this is a terrible book: there is a revolution in it—a revolution of the very poles of thought. Some it will rob of their dearest illusions, it will cut the very ground from beneath their feet, it will consign them to the Abyss. It is a great destroyer of complacency. Yes, this is a dangerous book—but then, life is like that.
It is beyond the province of this Introduction either to outline the Ouspenskian philosophy at any length, or to discuss it critically; but some slight indication of its drift may be of assistance to the reader.
The book might have appropriately been called A Study of Consciousness, for Ouspensky comes early to the conclusion that all other methods of approach to an understanding of the "enigmas of the world" are vain. Chapters I to VII, inclusive, deal with the problem of the world-order by the objective method. The author erects an elaborate scaffolding for his future edifice, and after it has served its purpose, throws it down. Aware of the deficiencies
of the objective method and having made the reader conscious of them too, he suddenly alters his system of attack. From chapter VIII onward, he undertakes the study of the world-order from the standpoint of subjectivity—of consciousness.
By a method both ingenious and new he correlates the different grades of consciousness observable in nature—those of vegetable-animal, animal and man—with the space sense, showing that as consciousness changes and develops, the sense of space changes and develops too. That is to say, the dimensionality of the world depends on the development of consciousness. Man, having reached the third stage in that development, has a sense of three-dimensional space—and for no other reason.
Ouspensky concludes that nothing except consciousness unfolds, develops, and as there appears to be no limit to this development, he conceives of space as the multi-dimensional mirror of consciousness and of time and motion as illusion—what appears to be time and motion being in reality only the movement of consciousness upon a higher space.
The problem of superior states of consciousness in which "there shall be time no longer" is thus directly opened up, and in discussing their nature and method of attainment, he quotes freely from the rich literature of mysticism. Instead of attempting to rationalize these higher states of consciousness, as some authors do, he applies to them the logic of intuition—"Tertium Organum"—paradoxical from the standpoint of ordinary reason, but true in relation to the noumenal world.
Joseph Conrad and Ford Madox Hueffer once wrote a novel called The Inheritors and by this they meant the people of the fourth dimension. Though there is small resemblance between Ouspensky's "superman" and theirs, it is his idea also that those of this world who succeed in developing higher-dimensional, or "cosmic" consciousness will indeed inherit—will control and regulate human affairs by reason of their superior wisdom and power. In this, and in this alone, dwells the "salvation" of the world. His superman is the "just man made perfect" of the Evangelist. The struggle for mastery between the blind and unconscious forces of materialism on the one hand, and the spiritually illumined on the other, is already upon us, and all conflicts between nations, peoples
and classes must now be interpreted in terms of this greater warfare between "two races" of men, in which the superior minority will either conquer or disappear.
These people of the fourth dimension are in the world but not of it: their range is far wider than this slum of space. In them dormant faculties are alert. Like birds of the air, their fitting symbol, they are at home in realms which others cannot enter, even though already "there." Nor are these heavenly eagles confined to the narrow prison of the breast. Their bodies are as tools which they may take up or lay aside at will. This phenomenal world, which seems so real, is to them as insubstantial as the image of a landscape in a lake. Such is the Ouspenskian superman.
The entire book is founded upon a new generalization—new, that is, in philosophy, but already familiar to mathematicians and theoretical physicists. This generalization involves startling and revolutionary ideas in regard to space, time and motion far removed from those of Euclidian geometry and classical physics.
Ouspensky handles these new ideas in an absolutely original way, making them the basis of an entire philosophy of life. To the timid and purblind this philosophy will be nothing short of terrifying, but to the clear-eyed and steadfast watcher, shipwrecked on this shoal of time, these vistas, overflowing with beauty, strangeness, doubt, terror and divinity, will be more welcome than anything in life.
Fear not the new generalization.
Ouspensky's clearness of thought is mirrored in a corresponding clarity of expression. He sometimes repeats the difficult and important passages in an altered form of words, he uses short sentences and short paragraphs, and italicizes significant phrases and significant words. He defines where definition is needed, and suggests collateral trains of thought with a skill which makes the reader who is intuitive a creator on his own account. Schopenhauer has said that it is always a sign of genius to treat difficult matters simply, as it is a sign of dullness to make simple matters appear recondite. Ouspensky exhibits this order of genius, and that other,
mentioned by Schopenhauer, which consists in choosing always the apt illustration, the illuminating simile.
The translators have tried to be rigidly true to the Russian original, and they have been at great pains to verify every English quotation so far as has been possible. It is therefore a source of great gratification to them that their efforts should have received the unqualified endorsement of the author himself.
Rochester, N. Y.
January 31, 1922