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Tertium Organum, by P.D. Ouspensky, [1922], at

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"I have called this system of higher logic Tertium Organum because for us it is the third canon—third instrument—of thought after those of Aristotle and Bacon. The first was Organon, the second, Novum Organum. But the third existed earlier than the first."
                                                           TERTIUM ORGANUM (page 262)


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What do we know and what do we not know? Our data, and the things for which we seek. The unknown mistaken for the known. Matter and motion. What does the positive philosophy come to? Identity of the unknown: x=y, y=x. What we really know. The existence of consciousness in us, and of the world outside us. Dualism or monism? Subjective and objective knowledge. Where do the causes of the sensations lie? Kant's system. Time and Space. Kant and the "ether." Mach's observation. With what does the physicist really deal?

"Learn to discern the real from the false"
H. P. B.     



THE most difficult thing is to know what we do know, and what we do not know.

Therefore, desiring to know anything, we shall before all else determine WHAT we accept as given, and WHAT as demanding definition and proof; that is, determine WHAT we know already, and WHAT we wish to know.

In relation to the knowledge of the world and of ourselves, the conditions would be ideal could we venture to accept nothing as given, and count all as demanding definition and proof. In other words, it would be best to assume that we know nothing, and make this our point of departure.

But unfortunately such conditions are impossible to create. Knowledge must start from some foundation, something must be recognized as known; otherwise we shall be obliged always to de-fine one unknown by means of another.

Looking at the matter from another point of view, we shall hesitate to accept as the known things—as the given ones—those in the main completely unknown, only presupposed, and therefore the things sought for. Should we do this, we are likely to fall into such a dilemma as that in which positive philosophy now finds itself—and by positive philosophy I mean a general trend of thought

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based on the data of those sciences which are now accepted as experimental and positive. This philosophy is founded on the existence of matter (materialism) or energy: that is, of a force, or motion, (energeticism); though in reality matter and motion were always the unknown x and y, and were defined by means of one another.

It must be perfectly clear to everyone that it is impossible to accept the thing sought as the given; and impossible to define one unknown by means of another. The result is nothing but the identity of the unknown: x=y, y=x.

This identity of the unknown is the ultimate conclusion to which positive philosophy comes.

Matter is that in which proceed the changes called motion: and motions are those changes which proceed in matter.


But what do we know?

We know that with the very first awakening of knowledge, man is confronted with two obvious facts:

The existence of the world in which he lives; and the existence of psychic life in himself.

Neither of these can he prove or disprove, but they are facts: they constitute reality for him.

It is possible to meditate upon the mutual correlation of these two facts. It is possible to try to reduce them to one; that is, to regard the psychic or inner world as a part, reflection, or function of the world, or the world as a part, reflection, or function of that inner world. But such a procedure constitutes a departure from facts, and all such considerations of the world and of the self, to the ordinary non-philosophical mind, will not have the character of obviousness. On the contrary the sole obvious fact remains the antithesis of I and Not-I—our inner psychic life and the outer world.,

Further on we shall return to this fundamental thesis. But thus far we have no basis on which to found a contradiction of the obvious fact of the existence of ourselves—i.e., of our inner life—and of the world in which we live. This we shall therefore accept as the given.

This however is the only thing that we have the right to accept as

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given: all the rest demands proof and definition in terms of these two given data.

Space, with its extension; time, with the idea of before, now, after; quantity, mass, substantiality; number, equality and inequality; identity and difference; cause and effect; the ether, atoms, electrons, energy, life, death—all things that form the foundation of our so-called knowledge: these are the unknown things.

The existence in us of psychic life, i.e., of sensations, perceptions, conceptions, reasoning, feeling, desires etc., and the existence of the world outside of us—from these two fundamental data immediately proceed our common and clearly understood division of everything that we know into subjective and objective.

Everything that we accept as a property of the world, we call objective; and everything that we accept as a property of our psyche, we call subjective.

The subjective world we recognize directly: it is in ourselves—we are one with it.

The objective world we picture to ourselves as existing somewhere outside of us—we and it are different things.

It seems to us that if we should close our eyes, then the objective world would continue to exist, such as we just saw it; and if our inner life were to disappear, so would the subjective world disappear—yet the objective world would exist as before, as it existed at the time when we were not; when our subjective world was not.

Our relation to the objective world is most exactly defined by the fact that we perceive it as existing in time and space; otherwise, out of these conditions, we can neither conceive nor imagine it. In general, we say that the objective world consists of things and phenomena, i.e., things and changes in states of things. The PHENOMENA exist for us in time; the THINGS, in space.

But such a division of the subjective and the objective world does not satisfy us.

By means of reasoning we can establish the fact that in reality we know only our own sensations, perceptions and conceptions, and we cognize the objective world by projecting outside of ourselves the causes of our sensations, presupposing them to contain these causes.

Then we find that our knowledge of the subjective world, and of

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the objective world also, can be true and false, correct and incorrect.

The criterion for the definition of correctness or incorrectness of our knowledge of the subjective world is the form of the relations of one sensation to others, and the force and character of the sensation itself. In other words, the correctness of one sensation is verified by the comparison of it with another of which we are more sure, or by the intensity and "taste" of a given sensation.

The criterion for the definition of correctness or incorrectness of our knowledge of the objective world is the very same. It seems to us that we define the things and phenomena of the objective world by means of comparing them among themselves; and we think we find the laws of their existence outside of us, and independent of our perception of them. But it is an illusion. We know nothing about things separately from us; and we have no other means of verifying the correctness of our knowledge of the objective world than BY SENSATIONS.


Since the remotest antiquity the question of our relation to the true causes of our sensations has constituted the main subject of philosophical research. Men have always felt that they should have some solution for this question, some answer for it. And these answers have vacillated between two poles, from the full negation of the causes themselves, and the assertion that the causes of sensations are contained within ourselves and not in anything outside of us—up to the recognition that we know these causes, that they are embodied in the phenomena of the outer world, that these phenomena constitute the cause of sensations; and that the cause of all observed phenomena lies in the movement of "atoms," and the oscillations of the "ether." It is believed that if we cannot observe these motions and oscillations it is only because we have not sufficiently powerful instruments, and that when such instruments are at our disposal we shall be able to see the movements of atoms as well as we see, through powerful telescopes, stars the very existence of which were never guessed.


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In modern philosophy Kant's system occupies a middle position in relation to this problem of the causes of sensations, not sharing either of these extreme views. Kant proved that the causes of our sensations are in the outside world, but that we cannot know these causes through any sensuous approach—that is, by such means as we know phenomena—and that we cannot know these causes, and shall never know them.

Kant established the fact that everything that is known through the senses is known in terms of time and space, and that out of time and space we cannot know anything by way of the senses; that time and space are necessary conditions of sensuous receptivity (i.e., receptivity by means of the five organs of sense). Moreover, what is most important, he established the fact that extension in space and existence in time are not properties appertaining to things, but just the properties of our sensuous receptivity; that in reality, apart from our sensuous knowledge of them, things exist independently of time and space; but we can never perceive them out of time and space, and perceiving things and phenomena thus sensuously, by virtue of it we impose upon them the conditions of time and space, as belonging to our form of perception.

Thus space and time, defining everything that we cognize by sensuous means, are in themselves just forms of our receptivity, categories of our intellect, the prism through which we regard the world—or in other words, space and time do not represent properties of the world, but just properties of our knowledge of the world gained through our sensuous organism. From this it follows that the world, apart from our knowledge of it, has neither extension in space nor existence in time; these are properties which we add to it.

Cognitions of space and time arise in our intellect during its touch with the external world by means of the organs of sense, and do not exist in the external world apart from our contact with it.

Space and time are categories of intellect, i.e., properties which are ascribed by us to the external world. They are signal posts, signs put up by ourselves because we cannot picture the external world without their help. They are graphics by which we represent

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the world to ourselves. Projecting outside of ourselves the causes of our sensations, we are designing those causes in space, and we picture continuous reality to ourselves as a series of moments of time following one another. This is necessary for us because a thing having no definite extension in space, not occupying a certain part of space and not lasting a certain length of time, does not exist for us at all. That is, a thing not in space, divorced from the idea of space, and not included in the category of space, will not differ from some other thing in any particular; it will occupy the very same place, will coincide with it. Also, all phenomena not in time, divorced from the idea of time, not taken in this or that fashion from the standpoint of before, now, after, would co-exist for us simultaneously, and all mixed up with one another, and our weak mind would not be able to distinguish one moment in the infinite variety.

Therefore our consciousness segregates, out of a chaos of impressions, separate groups, and we construct in space and time the perceptions of things according to these groups of impressions.

It is necessary for us to divide things somehow, and we divide them into the categories of space and time.

But we should remember that these divisions exist only in us, in our knowledge of things and not in the things themselves; that we do not know the true relations of things among themselves, and the real things we do not know, but only phantoms, visions of things—we do not know the relation existing among the things in reality. At the same time we quite definitely know that our division of things into the categories of space and time does not at all correspond to the division of things in themselves, independently of our receptivity of them; and we quite definitely know that if there exist any division at all among things in themselves, it will in no case be a division in terms of space and time according to our usual understanding of these words, because such a division is not a property of things, but of our knowledge of things gained through the senses. Moreover, we do not know if it is even possible to distinguish those divisions which we see, i.e., in space and time, if things are looked at not through human eyes, not from the human standpoint. In point of fact we do not know but that

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our world would present an entirely different aspect for a differently built organism.

We cannot perceive things as images outside of the categories of space and time, but we constantly think of them outside of space and time.

When we say that table, we picture the table to ourselves in space and time; but when we say an object made of wood, not meaning any definite thing, but speaking generally, it will relate to all things made of wood throughout the world, and in all ages. An imaginative person could conceive that we are referring to some great thing made of wood, composed of all objects whenever and wherever wooden things existed, these forming its constituent atoms, as it were.

We do not comprehend all these matters quite clearly, but in general it is plain that we think in space and time by perceptions only; but by concepts we think independently of space and time.


Kant named his views critical idealism, in contradiction to dogmatic idealism, of which Berkeley was a representative.

According to dogmatic idealism, all the world, all things—i.e., the true causes of our sensations—do not exist except in our consciousness: they exist only so far as we know them. The entire world perceived by us is just a reflection of ourselves.

Kantian idealism recognizes a world of causes outside of us, but asserts that we cannot know the world by means of sensuous perception, and everything that we perceive, generally speaking, is of our own creation—the product of a cognizing being.

So, according to Kant, everything that we find in things is put in them by ourselves. Independently of ourselves we do not know what the world is like. And our cognition of things has nothing in common with the things as they are outside of us—that is, in themselves. Furthermore, and most important, our ignorance of things in themselves does not depend upon our insufficient knowledge, but is due to the fact that by means of sensuous perception we cannot know the world correctly at all. That is

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to say, we cannot truly declare that although now we perhaps know little, presently we shall know more, and at length shall come to a correct understanding of the world. It is not true because our experimental knowledge is not a confused perception of a real world. It is a very acute perception of an entirely unreal world appearing round about us at the moment of our contact with the world of true causes, to which we cannot find the way because we are lost in an unreal "material" world. For this reason the extension of the objective sciences does not bring us any nearer to the knowledge of things in themselves, or of true causes.

In A Critique of Pure Reason Kant affirms that:

Nothing which is intuited in space is a thing in itself, and space is not a form which belongs as a property to things; but objects are quite unknown to us in themselves, and what we call outward objects are nothing else but mere representations of our sensibility, whose form is space, but whose real correlated thing in itself is not known by means of these representations, nor ever can be, but respecting which, in experience, no inquiry is ever made.

The things which we intuit are not in themselves the same as our representation of them in intuition, nor are their relations in themselves so constituted as they appear to us; and if we take away the subject, or even only the subjective constitution of our senses in general, then not only the nature and relations of objects in space and time disappear, but even space and time themselves.

What may be the nature of objects considered as things in themselves and without reference to the receptivity of our sensibility is quite unknown to us. We know nothing more than our own mode of perceiving them, which is peculiar to us and which though not of necessity pertaining to every animated being, is so to the whole human race.

Supposing that we should carry our empirical intuition even to the very highest degree of clearness we should not thereby advance one step nearer to the constitution of objects as things in themselves.

To say then that our sensibility is nothing but the confused representation of things containing exclusively that which belongs to them as things in themselves, and this under an accumulation of characteristic marks and partial representations which we cannot distinguish in consciousness, is a falsification of the conception of sensibility and phenomenization, which renders our whole doctrine thereof empty and

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useless. The difference between a confused and a clear representation is merely logical, and has nothing to do with content.


Up to the present time Kant's propositions have remained in the very form that he left them. Despite the multiplicity of new philosophical systems which appeared during the nineteenth century, and despite the number of philosophers who have particularly studied, commented upon, and interpreted Kant's writings, Kant's principal propositions have remained quite undeveloped, primarily because most people do not know how to read Kant at all, and they therefore dwell upon the unimportant and non-essential, ignoring the substance.

Yet really Kant simply put the question, threw to the world the problem, demanding the solution but not pointing the way toward it.

This fact is usually omitted when speaking of Kant. He propounded the riddle, but did not give the solution of it.

And to the present day we repeat Kant's propositions, we consider them incontrovertible, but in the main we represent them to our understanding very badly, and they are not correlated with other departments of our knowledge. All our positive science—physics (with chemistry) and biology—is built upon hypotheses CONTRADICTORY to Kant's propositions.

Moreover, we do not realize how we ourselves impose upon the world the properties of space, i.e., extension; nor do we realize how the world—earth, sea, trees, men—cannot possess such extension.

We do not understand how we can see and measure that extension if it does not exist—nor what the world represents in itself, if it does not possess extension.

But does the world really exist? Or, as a logical conclusion from Kant's ideas, shall we recognize the validity of Berkeley's idea, and deny the existence of the world itself except in imagination?


Positive philosophy stands in a very ambiguous relation to Kant's views. It accepts them and it does not accept them: it accepts,

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and considers them correct in their relation to the direct experience of the organs of sense—what we see, hear, touch. That is, positive philosophy recognizes the subjectivity of our receptivity, and recognizes everything that we perceive in objects as imposed upon them by ourselves—but this in relation to the direct experience of the senses only.

When it concerns itself with "scientific experience" however, in which precise instruments and calculations are used, positive philosophy evidently considers Kant's view in relation to that invalid, assuming that "scientific experience" makes known to us the very substance of things, the true causes of our sensations—or if it does not do so now, it brings us closer to the truth of things, and can inform us later.

Contrary to Kant, the positivists are sure that "more clear knowledge of phenomena makes them acquainted with things in themselves." They think that in looking upon physical phenomena as the motions of the ether, or as electrical or magnetic phenomena, and calculating their motions, they begin to know the very substance of things, i.e., the causes of phenomena; in other words, they believe exactly in the possibility of what Kant denied—the comprehension of the true substance of things by means of the investigation of phenomena. Moreover many physicists do not consider it necessary even to know Kant; and they could not themselves exactly define in what relation they stand toward him. Of course it is possible not to know Kant, but it is impossible to controvert him. Every description of physical phenomena, by its every word, is related to the problems set forth by Kant—remains in this or that relation to them.

In general, the position of "science" in regard to this question of "subjectively imposed" or "objectively cognized" is more than tottering, and in order to form its conclusions "science" is forced to accept many purely hypothetical suppositions as things known—as indubitable data, not demanding proof.

Moreover, physicists forget one very significant fact: in his book, Analysis of Sensations, Mach says:

In the investigation of purely physical processes we generally employ concepts of so abstract a character that as a rule we think only cursorily, or not at all, of the sensations (elements) that lie at their base. . .

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[paragraph continues] The foundation of all purely physical operations is based upon an almost unending series of sensations, particularly if we take into consideration the adjustment of the apparatus which must precede the actual experiment. Now it can easily happen to the physicist who does not study the psychology of his operations, that he does not (to reverse a well-known saying) see the trees for the wood, that he overlooks the sensory element at the foundation of his work. . . Psychological analysis has taught us that this is not surprising, since the physicist is always operating with sensations. 1

Mach here calls attention to a very important thing. Physicists de not consider it necessary to know psychology and to deal with it in their conclusions.

But when they are more or less acquainted with psychology, with that part of it which treats of the forms of receptivity, and take it into consideration, then they hold the most fantastic duality of opinion, as in the case of the man of orthodox belief who tries to reconcile the dogmas of faith with the arguments of reason, and who is obliged to believe simultaneously in the creation of the world in seven days, seven thousand years ago, and in geological periods hundreds of thousands of years long, and in the evolutionary theory. He is thus forced to resort to sophisms, and demonstrate that by seven days is meant seven periods. But why seven, exactly, he is unable to explain. For physicists the rôle of the "creation of the world" is played by the atomic theory and the ether, with its wave-like vibrations, and further by the electrons, and the energetic, or electromagnetic theory of the world.

Or sometimes it is even worse, for the physicist in the depth of his soul feels the falsity of all old and new scientific theories but fears to hang in the air, as it were; to take refuge in mere negation. He has no system in place of that whose falsity he already feels; he is afraid to make a plunge into mere emptiness. Lacking sufficient courage to declare that he believes in nothing at all, he accoutres himself in all contradictory theories, as in an official uniform, only because with this uniform are bound up certain rights and privileges, outer as well as inner, consisting of a certain confidence in himself and in his surroundings, to forego which he has no strength and determination. The unbelieving positivist—this is the tragic figure of our times, analogous to the atheist or unbelieving priest of the times of Voltaire.

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Out of this abhorrence of a vacuum come all dualistic theories which recognize "spirit" and "matter" existing simultaneously and independently of one another.


In general, to a disinterested observer, the state of our contemporary science should be of great psychological interest. In all branches of scientific knowledge we are absorbing an enormous number of facts destructive of the harmony of existing systems. And these systems can maintain themselves only by reason of the heroic attempts of scientific men who are trying to close their eyes to a long series of new facts which threatens to submerge everything in an irresistible stream. If in reality we were to collect these system-destroying facts they would be so numerous in every department of knowledge as to exceed those upon which existing systems are founded. The systematization of that which we do not know may yield us more for the true understanding of the world and the self than the systematization of that which in the opinion of "exact science" we do know.


21:1 Open Court Publishing Co.'s edition of Mach's work. 1914, pages 41, 42, and 43.

Next: Chapter II