The Kantian reality of Ouspensky’s 4D world

tertiumorganumI have a 1965 copy of “Tertium Organum”, written by Piotr Ouspensky in 1912. It’s a gem of philosophy, mathematics and esotericism. I read it a decade a ago and got lost on every page as the narrative jumps from mathematics to consciousness to perception of animals to higher spirits etc. I just reread it and managed to make sense of it. It is truly an extraordinary book. At the time of publishing it was admired for its boldness. It’s byline says it all: “THE THIRD CANON OF THOUGHT – A Key to the Enigmas of the World”. The first canon of thought was by Aristotle and the second by Bacon.

I’m not sure you can summarize this book and do it justice but I will try anyway:

Building on Kant’s argument that space and time are features of the mind, necessary to reconstruct reality for our experience, Ouspensky demonstrates that our experience of time hides many of its genuine spatial qualities. We live in a higher dimensional world of which the ordinary person only experience 3 dimensions that flow by under steady passage of time.

Ouspensky then says that time is truly a spatial dimension and past and future exist always just like space in front of us and behind us exists always as well. He goes a step further and argues that since time is a 4th spatial dimension of which we only experience a slice at a time, there is a lot that happens outside that slice.

For example, karma, i.e. the inevitable connections between things that we do and their consequences can be seen as single events in our lives as a 4th dimensional connections between two slices of time. Similar the fact that the ends of your shoelace are connected in space via a string. If you know this, you might considers actions from a longer term impact perspective.

Ouspensky sees similar connections in higher spiritual domains. These are not conceptual connections but real and physical. Remember, all this is set in a Kantian worldview where our only connection with reality is through our perceptions and minds.

If you haven’t heard of Ouspensky before, it would be easy to write him off as another crackpot. But Ouspensky is in a very different class and if history had been slightly different, he might have made it to the list of great philosophers.

Unlike crackpots, Ouspensky researched his material very carefully. The arguments he makes in this book are thorough, starting from the only premise he makes at the very start: 1) we are conscious and 2) there is a world. In fact, he criticizes science (in 1900) for not having the same thoroughness. Science assumes that there us such a thing as matter out there which since Kant’s Critique of Reason” is known to be a questionable starting point.

But behind Ouspensky’s ideas there is an interesting backdrop. Ouspensky was born n 1878 a year before Einstein and both were peers of Minkowski (who contributed a lot to Einstein’s relativity work). At that time, the concepts of space and time were far from fully understood. Einstein’s extraordinary publication of general relativity which explains gravity as a curvature of space and time due to mass was published 3 years after Ouspensky’s ‘Tertium Organum”. Long before that, whilst Einstein and Ouspensky were schoolboys, Charles Howard Hinton wrote essays about 4-dimensional space in which he speculated that our world is the 3-dimensional section of 4-dimensional objects. Our world is like a membrane, he postulated. It took another 75 years before string theory was developed which considers that our world is a a membrane of a section of a high dimensional universe.

I don’t think that Ouspensky or Hinton were exceptional in their intuition, the thinking around higher dimensional interpretations of our world would have been an interesting and speculative topic around 1900. Although Einstein was the one to put it all together, he wasn’t the only  person working on these interpretations. But unlike his peers he was a stubborn outsider with a tremendous capacity for physics and mathematics.

Since Einstein had cracked the nut, there was no need to pursue further interpretations of space and time. And with that Ouspensky’s serious philosophical ideas became a side note in history.

But Einstein didn’t solve the complete riddle.

Kant’s assertion that space and time are features of the mind is still considered valid by many philosopher’s today. Although Einstein’s physics is certainly valid for ‘our reality’, Kant’s critique suggests that ‘our reality’ only fits the human mind which comprises a 3-dimensional world and time.

It is a valid question to ask whether humanity could evolve a mind that is able to operate in more than 3 spatial dimensions and more than 1 time dimension. Or even a mind that is based on a completely different spatial-temporal geometry altogether.

And if humanity did evolve such a new spatial-temporal geometry of the mind, what would Einstein’s space-time theory look like then? And not just Einstein, we’d have to revisit Newton and perhaps even Plato. Imagine that.

If indeed space and time are features of the mind that allow us to make sense of our reality in the way that we do, than it would seem of scientific and philosophical importance to look beyond our mind’s space-time and make sense of the underlying reality.

Ouspensky was trying to do that but I think that he missed the mathematical skills to make more progress. Many mathematician’s on the other hand have missed and still miss the ability to think beyond abstraction and venture into their own minds. Those among us that venture into mind territory quickly get lost in esotericism or religion.

To me, as a mathematician, engineer, philosopher, explorer and 4D fractal geek, that looks like a really juicy apple to get my teeth into; at least to see what it tastes like. Developing a new foundation of reality however will require a new Einstein (or even a Zweistein as we like to joke).

I don’t know whether Ouspensky’s direction has been followed sufficiently to lead to a new Einstein that figures it all out any time soon. Ouspensky did have a large following in his time but his work was plagued by 2 world wars in which his country (Russia) and his latter home (England) were involved and he had to move around a bit.

But history tends to loop back sometimes and re-evaluate old ideas. Let’s see. Truth will always out.

14 thoughts on “The Kantian reality of Ouspensky’s 4D world

    1. From what I can tell, this was indeed done and there is nothing suggesting that they made some error.

      Long before, Richard Feynman had determined that matter-antimatter reactions involve a reversed time arrow as the only explanation for that reaction. This has been confirmed but some physicists prefer to say that only the math shows time reversal since according to them time can only go forward (without being able to prove that).

      This ANU goes a step further and actually measures a reversed time scenario. In quantum mechanics a particle wave ‘decides’ to behave like a particle OR a wave when we measure it. This in itself is totally bizarre: our human action of measuring something changes whether it is one or the other.
      At ANU they randomly put a (second) light grid in the way of the particle wave AFTER it had passed and this determined the behavior of the particle wave. It is like buying a scratch lot and the numbers change whether you scratch it with your left or right thumb.

      This experiment was based on a thought experiment by the physicist John Wheeler. He once said: “past has no existence except as recorded in the present”. That’s a profound assertion that may have been demonstrated by this experiment. Think about the consequences…

      1. How on earth, though, did they find the “time” to alter the apperatus during the test, which is happening at lightspeed?

        This is the part i can’t understand. I get it that if we had an enormous apperatus, light seconds apart, we could do it because we had the time, but if this is happening in a lab, then how?

      2. I don’t know the precise setup but if you fire two laser beams picoseconds apart or at the same time, the a particle would either cross one light grid or both.

      3. Quantum mechanics is known to be weird. Besides, I suspect that physicists don’t like the idea of reverse time and will want a better explanation that doesn’t screw up their model of the universe.

  1. I am new to this, and no scientist! I am more of an ‘intuitive,’ but have questions about our existence! Of all existence!
    If I am correct in my assumption of what this means, do we see increased information on the internet about just every subject under the sun (and beyond), because we want to see it? The very fact that we are asking a question, that the universe, in all it’s weirdness, provides an answer that we understand?

    1. That is what most people believe, one way or the other. The film “The Secret” was all about that. It would seem compatible with Ouspenski’s belief system but he didn’t appeal to higher powers. In his view, if we ask a question, it is inevitably linked with the answer but that answer may not be visible immediately because it exists in a future time.

      And welcome to Genetic Fractals 🙂

      1. Thank you! I have enjoyed reading some of your posts. Very interesting, and enlightening, (even if I don’t fully understand the mathematical theory)!

  2. Henk, don’t have your email so I’ll ask this here. Was on Twitter last night on a thread about cosmology. I wrote something that made me go, “Oh.” Is it possible that the expansion of the universe is due to centrifugal force?

    Let me explain. We know there are spinning singularities (ringularities) in some black holes, like Kerr black holes. Given the idea that this universe is the product of a collapsing 4D star, and we are in essence inside that black hole, is it possible this universe was birthed from that ringularity, and because everything (the entire universe, which just so happens to be very, very flat) is spinning (imperceptible to us because we’re along for the ride) then by centrifugal force it’s being pushed out, explaining expansion, and perhaps giving us a testable model for its increase in rate?

    Does this make sense, or am I missing something enormous and quite obvious?

    Drop me an email if you want,

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