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On Mystical Confusion

The many absurdities in which pure science has found itself, coupled with the many grave problems of social readjustment which applied science has brought upon us, have provided both intellectual and emotional grounds for a turn to other attitudes. Thus, there are signs that the positivistic West would gladly renounce its positivism in favor of a mystical guidance, though men of intelligence and emotional decency have, for the most part, been denied much opportunity in this direction unless they were content to piece together little religions of their own. The dogmatists of the contemporary Church could obviously offer them nothing, as these men were generally of a very unenterprising nature—and whatever talents they had were enlisted more in the cause of institutionalism than of insight. Accordingly, when Mr. Ouspensky came forward some years ago with his “Tertium Organum: A Key to the Enigmas of the World,” the situation was considerably improved. In him mysticism found an apologist of distinction.

It is no wonder that a very reputable group of readers rallied behind him. For here is a man of broad learning and even broader sympathies, an ingenious and independent thinker, and above all a mystically inclined person who realized that the organized forces of virtue are much farther from a sense of religious values than a thief or a child-slayer could ever be. To Californian Christianity, the doctrine that customers go streaming into the Kingdom of Heaven by the millions, if they have but earned good salaries and advocated more laws, he is wholly impervious. Whereas our cults have generally been recruited among the slow witted, this man’s critical weapons are sharp enough to make any contented statistics-gatherer-in-the-name-of-science uneasy. He knows that insufficient facts can often be more misleading than no facts at all; and since we must admit that on “ultimate” questions our facts are always insufficient, he has here a good entering wedge for what he calls the “psychological method,” the “revaluation of all values from the point of view of their own psychological meaning and independently of the outer or accompanying facts on the basis of which they are generally judged.” That is, if one under gas dreamed a metaphysical “revelation,” we could not dispose of the “revelation” by saying that the man was under gas; it would remain a revelation regardless of the “facts.” The universe can look entirely different, if we but make this one slight change in our rules of thumb for thinking.

There are, says Mr. Ouspensky, four ways that lead to the Unknown, “four forms of conception of the world—religion, philosophy, science and art.” These ways have diverged until they contradict themselves and one another. But “the more they have broken up and separated from one another, the farther they depart from truth. Truth is at the center, where the four ways converge. Consequently the nearer they are to one another, the nearer they are to truth, the farther from one another, the farther from truth.” In Egypt, Greece and India, “there were periods when the four ways constituted one whole.” The knowledge of these times was “esoteric” knowledge—and the author lays great weight upon this knowledge in the attempt to construct his new model of the universe which in contrast with the specializing works of the contemporary West, would tend to make religion, philosophy, science and art again converge. The convergence, as one might expect, cannot be readily followed within the exclusive field of any one of the four. He considers knowledge “based upon senses which surpass our five senses and upon a capacity for thinking which surpasses ordinary thinking.” He holds that “ordinary logical language” is but an approximation to the “truth.” For there is also the insight of mysticism which is “entirely emotional, entirely made up of subtle, incommunicable sensations, which are even more incapable of verbal expression and logical definition than are such things as sound and color and line.”

The author has examined holy texts, in particular the religious lore of the East. His chapter on “Experimental Mysticism” would lead us to suppose that he had made many tests with hasheesh, deriving from it that sense of impersonality, of the subjective merging into the objective, of “unity,” which this drug seems to have induced even in people much less mystically inclined than he. He studied the Symbolism of the Tarot. He stood beneath the Sphinx, or listened to the remarkable set of echoes which went hurtling about the mausoleum of the Taj Mahal when one of the gatekeepers had called out the name of Allah—and at such times he felt himself in the presence of a profound secret which was all but revealed to him. He looked into the matter of the five Yogas, which teach “the way to find the hidden truth concealed in things, in the actions of men, in the writings of great sages of all times and peoples.” He holds that our development must be toward a “higher consciousness.” There is an inner circle of humanity, those in possession of esoteric knowledge, who have had a great influence upon the course of mankind, though such effects are generally disguised, particularly as the masses pervert the doctrines by bringing them to lower levels in the very process of accepting them. Nature is purposive: there is the great laboratory of nature which produced all the inferior forms of life as “preliminary experiments” in the attempt to create a “self-evolving being,” which is man. Ulan has the power, by the selection and disciplining of certain faculties, to become “superman,” and thereupon to pass into that higher plane of being which transcends the cycles of such life as we, of the outer circle, live.

This constitutes in brief summary the part of the present volume preceding the chapter on “A New Model of the Universe” proper. This chapter, whatever else one may think of it, is certainly among the world’s most ingenious pieces of thinking. It considers the underlying factors of “old physics,” shows how certain discoveries of “old physics” led to a breaking of the frame—then concludes that certain considerations of “new physics” must break the frame in turn and lead to the supposition of some such universe as he describes. Old physics broke down, the author says, primarily because it did not consider time as a “fourth dimension.” But the new physics is inadequate because there are in reality three dimensions of time, whereas the new physics considers but the “line of time.” Thus:

Motion by itself is a very complex phenomenon. At the very first approach to motion we meet with an interesting fact. Motion has in itself three clearly expressed dimensions: duration, velocity and “direction.” But this direction does not lie in Euclidean space, as it was taken by old physics; it is a direction from before to after, which for us never changes and never disappears.

Time is the measure of motion. If we represent time by a line, then the only line which will satisfy all the demands of time will be a spiral. A spiral is a “three-dimensional line,” so to speak, a line which requires three coordinates for its construction and designation.

Six-dimensional space is reality, “the world as it is.” We see this reality only “through the slit of the senses,” thus translating it into a world of three space dimensions and one time dimension. The author now proceeds to examine these added dimensions more closely. Direction, velocity and duration are not, of course, their “real” description, but merely their translation into the terms of our limited vision. They have properties which take them beyond the realm of physics. Thus:

Let us, he says, consider a three-dimensional body in space as a point in time. Now let us draw a line, with “Before” at the left end and “After” at the right end. Anywhere along this line let us choose a point to call “Now.” And we can choose other points along the same line to call “Now.” Let us next imagine perpendiculars drawn from these Now’s. Each one of these perpendiculars will be the “Perpetual Now” for that particular moment. This is the fifth dimension. Each Now will, by the nature of this dimension, exist forever, though we, on the line of the fourth dimension, or “historical time,” will move on from one Now to the next as we progress from moment to moment. Each moment, that is, has its Perpetual Now going off “perpendicular” to it.

But each moment of “now” on the line of time . . . contains not one, but a certain number, of possibilities.. . . I may actualize one of the existing possibilities, that is, I may do something. I may do nothing. But whatever I do, that is, whichever of the possibilities contained in the given moment is actualized, the actualization of this possibility will determine the following moment of time, the following now. . . . Thus, the line of the direction of time can be defined as the line of the actualization of one possibility out of the number of possibilities which were contained in the preceding point. The line of this actualization will be the line of the fourth dimension, the line of time. We visualize it as a straight line, but it would be more correct to think of it as a zigzag line. The perpetual existence of this actualization, the line perpendicular to the line of time, will be the line of the fifth dimension, or the line of eternity.

And the sixth dimension will be the “line of the actualization of other possibilities which were contained in the preceding moment but were not actualized ‘in time’ . . . The line of time, repeated infinitely in eternity, leaves at every point unactualized possibilities. But these possibilities, which have not been actualized in one time, are actualized in the sixth dimension, which is an aggregate of ‘all times.’”

I had some difficulty in thinking of these “possibilities” until I imagined them as bottles on a shelf. At a given moment on the line of “historical time” there are a number of bottles, variously labeled, sitting on the shelf, and we choose one of them. This choice presumably affects the number and assortment of bottles that will be on the shelf at the next moment of time. But the bottle we chose at the preceding moment will have an infinite extension in the fifth dimension; it will be the eternal bottle for that moment. The bottles we did not choose, however, will not be destroyed; they are still on the shelf, the shelf of the sixth dimension.

The hypostatizing of “possibilities” seems less arbitrary when we see what the author does with it. We understand the nature of these two dimensions better when we understand the conclusions and exhortations which he draws from them. They are, in brief, coupled with a doctrine of recurrence. A man lives over and over again, “in the same town, in the same street.” He will have the same relatives, “will make the same mistakes, laugh and cry in the same way,” etc. This explains the feeling we sometimes have that this has happened before. It also explains the unerringness with which some men play their roles: their certainty as to the outcome of some act indicates a previous acquaintanceship with the situation. Thus, if we are to improve ourselves, and are implicated in the events of our previous cycles, we must remove the evil by remedying the past. We now see the function of the bottles of “unactualized possibilities” which were left standing on the shelf of the sixth dimension. We can make a different selection, putting back the bottle which we had taken down before and choosing another in its stead.

“There would be no possibility of thinking of the evolution of humanity, if the possibility did not exist for individually evolving men to go into the past and struggle against the causes of the present evil which lie there. This explains where those people disappear who have remembered their past lives.” That is, they have reincarnated into the past, have gone to influence the choice of possibilities. Reincarnation, however, is possible “only into places which become free, into ‘vacancies.’ “These vacancies are made either “when a soul, after many lives of conscious struggle, obtains freedom, leaves the circle of lives in the particular ‘place in time’ and goes in the direction of its source, that is, into the past.” And there are also undesirable vacancies left when a soul has so degenerated that, as it were, it drops out the bottom, “ceases to be born.” The closing chapter, on “Sex and Evolution,” suggests that as sex is ordinarily employed in birth, it may, as is evidenced by the pronounced attitude toward sex usually taken in religious disciplines, be “transmuted” into a mechanism for spiritual rebirth. Sex alone contains, for ordinary man, something of the ecstasy which marks the normal mystic state; and the melancholy which often accompanies strong sexual feeling is perhaps an admonition, a dim foreboding, of the “departure” into higher realms of being that might occur if this sex were more accurately transmuted.

Such are the outlines of this work. They should serve, I think, to indicate that the work is practically beyond “argument.” There is nothing to “disprove.” In the sixth dimension, the author says, “every point of time touches every point of space and everything is anywhere and always.” To offer such a conception in opposition to the paradoxes of relativism may seem to some like “reconciling” the logical absurdities of a four-dimensional system by postulating a fifth dimension in which all logical absurdities are reconciled. If someone cares to say that there is such a dimension, there is certainly no mechanism for saying him nay. One can, if he is out of sympathy with the author, simply test the message by aspects with which he is in sympathy. It takes no “believer,” for instance, to find much that is admirable and overwhelming and even “revealing” in the vast mythology of Blake. Similarly, in the present work one will find many observations which indicate great sensitiveness to human values, though in this case the perceptions are critical rather than poetic. On the whole, those of us who, however grudgingly, are still weighted down with positivism will prefer our “new models of the universe” as a Blake or a Milton conceives them. The great cry for synthesis is more popular than compelling. No one would ask for a synthesis between bridge building and botany. Two different fields of investigation are “synthesized,” not by the merging of their concepts, but by a similarity of method; there is “synthesis” when we develop a “form” of procedure which can be applied mutandis mutatis to varying subject matters; botany and bridge building are “brought together” when our ways of studying the one have their equivalent in our ways of studying the other—and this essential aspect of synthesis is already with us. And whatever the values of a synthesis may be, they are hardly great enough to justify an approach which mingles the dialectic of philosophy, the metaphors of art, the measurements of science and the “higher knowledge” of religion. The result is an indeterminate shifting of vocabulary which, far from avoiding the deceptions of speech which Yoga equips us to reveal, makes it possible for deceptions of speech to flourish at their greatest.