Tertium Organum-The Third Canon Of Thought -A Key To The Enigmas Of The World

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Tertium Organum-The Third Canon Of Thought -A Key To The Enigmas Of The World

By P.D. Ouspensky

Chapter XIX

The intellectual method, objective knowledge. The limits of objective knowledge. The possibility of the expansion of the application of the psychological method. New forms of knowledge. The ideas of Plotinus. Different forms of consciousness. Sleep (the potential state of consciousness). Dreams (consciousness enclosed in itself, reflected from itself). Waking consciousness (dualistic sensation of the world, the division of the I and the Not-I). Ecstasy (the liberation of the self). Turiya (the absolute consciousness of all, as of the self). "The dewdrop slips into the shining sea." Nirvana.

HAVING established the principle of the possible unification of the forms of our knowledge, let us discover if this unification is not somewhere realized; how it may be realized; and whether it will be realized in a form entirely new, or in one of the existing forms which shall include all others in itself.

For this we shall return to the fundamental principles of our knowledge, and compare the possible chances for the development of different paths, i.e., we shall try to find out as best we may that path which leads to the new knowledge, and in the shortest time.

Up to a certain point we have already established this regarding the emotional path; the growth of the emotions, their purification and their liberation from the materialistic elements of possession and fear of loss must lead to super-personal knowledge and to intuition.

But how can the intellectual path lead to the new forms of knowledge?

First of all, what is the new knowledge?

The new knowledge is direct knowledge, by an inner sense. I feel my own pain directly; the new knowledge can give me the power to sense, as mine, the pain of another man. Thus the new knowledge is the expansion of a direct experience. The question is, can the expansion of objective knowledge be founded upon this new experience? Let us analyze the nature of objective knowledge.

Our objective knowledge is contained in science and philosophy. Inner experience science has always regarded as a thing given, which cannot be changed, but as something "doubtful," standing in need of verification and affirmation by the objective method. Science has studied the world as an objective phenomenon, and it has striven to study the psyche and its properties as such another objective phenomenon.

In another quarter, the study of the psyche from the inside, so to speak, was proceeding simultaneously with this, but to this study no great significance was ever attached. The limits of inner knowledge, i.e., the limits of the psyche, were considered to be strictly definite, established, and unchangeable. Only for objective knowledge, founded upon identical inner experience, was the possibility of expansion admitted.

Let us discover if there is not some mistake here: is the expansion of objective knowledge, founded upon a limited experience, really possible, and are the possibilities of experience really limited?


Developing science, i.e., objective knowledge, is encountering obstacles everywhere. Science studies phenomena; just as soon as it attempts to discover causes, it is confronted with the wall of the unknown, and to it unknowable. The question narrows itself down to this: is this unknowable absolutely unknowable, or is it so only for the methods of our science?

At the present time the situation is just this: the number of unknown facts in every region of scientific knowledge is rapidly increasing; and the unknown threatens to swallow the known—or the accepted as known. One might define the progress of science, especially latterly, as a very rapid growth of the regions of nescience.

Nescience of course existed before, and not in less degree than at present. But before, it was not so clearly recognized—at that time science did not know what it does not know. Now it knows this more and more, and more and more knows its conditionality. A little more, and in every separate branch of science that which it does not know will become greater than that which it knows.

In every department science itself is beginning to repudiate its own foundations. A little more, and science in its entirety will ask, "Where am I?"

Positive thinking—which conceived of its problem as the deducing of general conclusions from the findings of each separate science and all of them combined—will feel itself compelled to deduce conclusions from that which science does not know. Then all the world will see before it the colossus with feet of clay, or rather without any feet at all, but with a formidable misty body, hanging in the air.

For a long time philosophy has realized the lack of feet of this colossus, but the majority of cultivated mankind is still hypnotized by positivism, which sees something in place of those feet. How-ever, it will be necessary to part company with this illusion very soon. Mathematics, lying at the very foundation of positive knowledge, and to which exact science always pointed with pride, as to its subject and vassal, is in reality now denying all positivism. Mathematics was included in the cycle of positive sciences only by mistake, and soon indeed mathematics will become the principal weapon AGAINST POSITIVISM.

By positivism I mean, in this connection, that system which affirms, in contradiction to Kant, that the study of phenomena can bring us nearer to things in themselves, i.e., which affirms that by going along the path of the study of phenomena we can come to an understanding of causes, and—this is important—which regards physico-mechanical phenomena as the cause of biological and psychic phenomena.

The usual positivistic view denies the existence of the hidden side of life, i.e., it finds that the hidden side consists of electro-magnetic phenomena and opens to us only little by little—and that the progress of science consists in the gradual unveiling of the hidden.

"This is not known as yet," says the positivist, when his attention is called to something 'hidden,' "but it will be known. Science, going by the same path that it has gone up to now, will discover this also. Five hundred years ago, Europe did not know of the existence of America; seventy years ago we did not know of the existence of bacteria; twenty-five years ago we did not know of the existence of radium. But America, bacteria and radium are all discovered now. Similarly and by the same methods, and by such methods only, will be discovered everything that is to be discovered. The apparatuses are being perfected, the methods, processes and observations are being refined. That which we did not even suspect a hundred years ago, has now become a generally known and generally understood fact. Everything that is possible to be known will become known after this manner."

Thus do the adherents of the positivistic viewpoints speak, but at the foundation of these reasonings lies a deep delusion.

The affirmation of positivism would be quite true did positivism move uniformly in all directions of the unknown; if sealed doors did not exist for it; if in the multitude of questions the principal questions did not remain just as obscure as in those times when science did not exist at all. We see that enormous regions are closed utterly to science, that it never penetrated into them, and worst of all it made not a single step in the direction of these regions.

There are multitudes of problems the solving of which science has not even attempted; problems in the presence of which the contemporary scientist, armed with all his science, is as helpless as a savage or a four-year-old child.

Such are the problems of life and death, the problems of space and time, the mystery of consciousness, etc., etc.

We all know this, and the only thing we can do is to try not to think about the existence of these problems, to forget about them. We do so as a rule, but this does not annihilate them. They continue to exist, and at any given moment we may turn to them and try on them the rigidity and force of our scientific method. And every time, at such an attempt, we find that our scientific method is not equal to these problems. By its aid we can discover the chemical composition of remote stars; can photograph the skeleton within the human body, invisible to the human eye; can invent a floating mine which can be controlled from a distance by means of electrical waves, and can in this way annihilate in a moment hundreds of lives; but by the aid of this method we cannot tell what the man standing beside us is thinking about. No matter how much we may weigh, sound or photograph a man, we shall never know his thoughts unless he himself tells them to us. BUT THIS IS TRULY QUITE A DIFFERENT METHOD.

The sphere of action of the method of exact science is strictly limited. This sphere is the world of the immediate experience accessible for man. In the world lying beyond the domain of usual experience exact science with its methods has never penetrated and will never penetrate.

The expansion of objective knowledge is possible only in case direct experience is expanded. But in spite of all the growth of objective knowledge science has made not one step in this direction and the border-line of experience remains in the same place. Could science take a single step in this direction, were we able to feel or sense differently, then we might admit that science might move and take two, three, ten, and ten thousand steps. But it has taken not even one, and it is therefore reasonable to believe that it will never take it. The world outside the experience of the five senses is closed to objective investigation, and for this quite definite causes exist.

By no means everything that exists can be detected by any of five senses.

Objective existence is a very narrowly defined form of existence, and does not by any means exhaust or comprehend existence as a whole. The mistake of positivism consists in the fact that it has recognized as really existing only that which exists objectively, and it has even begun to deny the very existence of all the rest.

But what is objectivity?

We can define it in this way: because of the properties of our receptivity, or because of the conditions under which our psyche works, we segregate a small number of facts into a definite group. This group of facts represents in itself the objective world, and is accessible to the investigation of science. But in no case does this group represent in itself EVERYTHING THAT IS EXISTING. Extension in space and existence in time constitute the first condition of objective existence. And yet the forms of the extension of a thing in space, and those of its existence in time are created by the cognizing subject, and do not belong to the thing itself. Matter is first of all three-dimensional. This three-dimensionality is the form of our receptivity. Matter of four dimensions would imply a change in the form of our receptivity.

Materiality is the condition of existence in space and time, i.e., a condition of existence under which "at one time, and in one place, two similar phenomena cannot occur." This is an exhaustive definition of materiality. It is clear that under the conditions known to us, two similar phenomena, occurring simultaneously in one place, will compose one phenomenon. But this is obligatory for those conditions of existence which we know, i.e., for such matter as we perceive. For the universe it is absolutely not obligatory. We constantly observe the conditions of materiality in those cases in which we must create in our life a sequence of phenomena or are obliged to select, because our matter does not permit us to juxtapose in a definite interval of time more than a certain number of phenomena. The necessity for selection is perhaps the chief visible sign of materiality. Outside of matter, the necessity for. selection is done away with, and if we imagine the life of a feeling being, independent of the conditions of materiality, such a being will be capable of possessing simultaneously such faculties as from our standpoint are incompatible, opposite, and eliminative of one another: the power of being in several places at the same time; to command different views; to perform opposite and mutually exclusive actions simultaneously.

In speaking of matter it is necessary always to remember that matter is not a substance, but a condition. Suppose for example, that a man is blind. It is impossible to regard this blindness as a substance; it is a condition of the existence of a given man. Matter is some sort of blindness.

Objective knowledge can grow infinitely, its progress depending on the perfection of its instruments and the refinement of its methods of observation and experiment. One thing only it cannot transcend—the limits of the three-dimensional sphere, i.e., the conditions of space and time, for the reason that objective knowledge is created under these conditions, and the conditions of the existence of the three-dimensional world are the conditions of its existence. Objective knowledge will always be subject to these conditions, for otherwise it would cease to exist. No apparatus, no instrument, will ever conquer these conditions, for should they conquer they would destroy themselves first of all. Perpetual motion, i.e., the violation of the fundamental laws of the three-dimensional world as we know it, would be the only victory over the three-dimensional world in the three-dimensional world itself.

But it is necessary to remember that objective knowledge does not study facts, but only the perception of facts.


As long as this does not happen, our objective knowledge is confined within the limits of an infinite three-dimensional sphere. It can proceed infinitely upon the radii of that sphere, but it will never penetrate into that region a section of which constitutes our three-dimensional world. Moreover we know, from the preceding, that should our receptivity become more limited, then objective knowledge would be correspondingly limited also. It is impossible to convey to a dog the idea of the sphericality of the earth; to make it remember the weight of the sun and the distances between the planets is equally impossible. Its objective knowledge is vastly more personal than ours; and the cause of it lies in the dog's more limited psyche.

Thus we see that objective knowledge depends upon the properties of the psyche.

Indeed, between the objective knowledge of a savage and that of Herbert Spencer there is an enormous difference; but that of neither the one nor the other transcends the limit of the three-dimensional sphere, i.e., the limits of the "conditional," the unreal. In order to transcend the three-dimensional sphere it is necessary to expand or change the forms of receptivity.

Is the expansion of the limits of receptivity possible?

The study of complex forms of consciousness assures us that it is possible.

Plotinus, the famous Alexandrian philosopher (third century) affirmed that for perfect knowledge the subject and object must be united that the rational agent and the thing being comprehended must not be separate.

For that which sees is itself the thing, which IS SEEN. [Select Works of Plotinus. Bohn's Library, p. 271.]

Here it is indeed necessary to understand, "to see" other than in a literal sense. The "seeing" changes with the changes of the state of consciousness in which it is proceeding.

But what forms of consciousness exist?

Hindu philosophy makes the division into four states of consciousness: sleep, dream, waking, and the state of absolute consciousness—turiya. 1 (The Ancient Wisdom, Annie Besant.)

G. R. S. Mead, in the preface to Taylor's translation of Plotinus (Bohn's Library) correlates the terminology of Shankarâchârya—the leader of the Advaita-Vedânta school of ancient India—with that of Plotinus.

The first or spiritual state was ecstasy; from ecstasy it forgot itself into deep sleep; from profound sleep it awoke out of unconsciousness, but still within itself, into the internal world of dreams; from dreaming it passes finally into the thoroughly waking state, and the outer world of sense.

Ecstasy is the term used by Plotinus; it is entirely identical with the term turiya of Hindu psychology.

The consciousness, which is in a waking condition, is surrounded by what constitutes its sense-organs and receptive apparatus in the phenomenal world; it differentiates the "subjective" from the "objective," and differentiates its forms of perception from "reality." It recognizes the phenomenal objective world as reality, and dreams as unreality, and includes along with it, as being unreal, the entire subjective world. Its vague sensation of real things, lying beyond that which is apprehended by the organs of sense, i.e., sensations of noumena, consciousness identifies as it were with dreams—with the unreal, imaginary, abstract, subjective—and regards phenomena as the only reality.

Gradually convinced by reason of the unreality of phenomena, or inwardly sensing this unreality and the reality which lies behind, we free ourselves from the mirage of phenomena, we begin to understand that all the phenomenal world is in substance subjective also, that the great realities lie deeper down. Then a complete change takes place in consciousness in all its concepts about reality. That which before was regarded as real becomes unreal, and that which was regarded as unreal becomes real. 1

This transition into the absolute state of consciousness is "UNION WITH DIVINITY," "VISION OF GOD," EXPERIENCING THE "KINGDOM OF HEAVEN," "ENTERING NIRVANA." All these expressions of mystical religions represent the psychological fact of the expansion of consciousness, such an expansion that the consciousness absorbs itself in the all.

C. W. Leadbeater, in an essay, Some Notes on the Higher Planes. Nirvana (The Theosophist. July, 1910.) writes:

Sir Edwin Arnold wrote of that beatific condition, that "the dewdrop slips into the shining sea."

Those who have passed through that most marvelous of experiences know that, paradoxical as it may seem, the sensation is exactly the reverse, and that a far closer description would be that THE OCEAN HAD SOMEHOW BEEN POURED INTO THE DROP!

The consciousness, wide as the sea, with "its centre everywhere and its circumference nowhere," is a great and glorious fact; but when a man attains it, it seems to him that his consciousness has widened to take in all that, not that he is merged into something else.

This pouring of the ocean into the drop occurs because the consciousness never loses itself, i.e., does not disappear, does not become extinguished. When it seems to us that consciousness is extinguished, in reality it is only changing its form, it ceases to be analogical to ours, and we lose the means of convincing ourselves of its existence.

We have no exact data at all to think that it is dissipated. In order to escape from the field possible to our observation, it is sufficient for consciousness TO CHANGE ONLY A LITTLE.

In the objective world, indeed, this "slipping of the dewdrop into the sea" leads to the annihilation of the drop, to the absorption of it by the sea. We have never observed another order of things in the objective world and therefore cannot imagine it. But in the real, i.e., the subjective world, of course another order must exist and operate. The DROP OF CONSCIOUSNESS merging with the SEA OF CONSCIOUSNESS knows it, but does not itself cease to exist because of that. Therefore undoubtedly, the sea is absorbed by the drop.

In the Letters to Flaccus of Plotinus, we find a wonderful description of a psychology and theory of knowledge founded exactly upon the idea of the expansion of receptivity.

External objects present us only with appearances. Concerning them, therefore, we may be said to possess opinion rather than knowledge. The distinctions in the actual world of appearance are of import only to ordinary and practical men. Our question lies with the ideal reality that exists behind appearance. How does the mind perceive these ideas? Are they without us, and is the reason, like sensation, occupied with objects external to itself? What certainty would we then have—what assurance that our perception was infallible? The object perceived would be a something different from the mind perceiving it. We should have then an image instead of reality. It would be monstrous to believe for a moment that the mind was unable to perceive ideal truth as it is, and that we had not certainty and real knowledge concerning the world of intelligence. It follows, therefore, that this region of truth is not to be investigated as a thing external to us, and so only imperfectly known. It is within us. Here the objects we contemplate and that which contemplates are identical—both are thought. The subject cannot surely know an object different from itself. The world of ideas lies within our intelligence. Truth, therefore, is not the agreement of our apprehension of an external object with the object itself. It is the agreement of the mind with itself. Consciousness, therefore, is the sole basis of certainty. The mind is its own witness. Reason sees in itself that which is above itself and its source; and again, that which is below itself as still itself once more.

Knowledge has three degrees—opinion, science, illumination. The means or instrument of the first is sense; of the second dialectic; of the third intuition. To the last I subordinate reason. It is absolute knowledge founded on the identity of the mind knowing with the object known.

There is a raying out of all orders of existence, an external emanation from the ineffable One. There is again a returning impulse, drawing all upward and inward toward the centre from whence all came. . . . The wise man recognizes the idea of the good within him. This he develops by withdrawal into the holy place of his own soul. He who does not understand how the soul contains the beautiful within itself, seeks to realize beauty without by laborious production. His aim should rather be to concentrate and simplify, and so to expand his being; instead of going out into the manifold, to forsake it for the One, and to float upwards toward the divine fount of being whose stream flows within him.

You ask, how can we know the Infinite? I, answer, not by reason. It is the office of reason to distinguish and define. The infinite, therefore, cannot be ranked among its objects. You can only apprehend the infinite by a faculty superior to reason, by entering into a state in which you are your finite self no longer—in which the divine essence is communicated to you. This is ecstasy. It is the liberation of your mind from its finite consciousness. Like can only apprehend like; when you thus cease to be finite, you become one with the infinite. In the reduction of your soul to its simplest self, its divine essence, you realize this union—this identity.

But this sublime condition is not of permanent duration. It is only now and then that we can enjoy this elevation above the limits of the body and the world. I myself have realized it but three times as yet, and Porphyry hitherto not once.

All that tends to purify and elevate the mind will assist you in this attainment, and facilitate the approach and the recurrence of these happy intervals. There are, then, different roads by which this end may be reached. The love of beauty which exalts the poet; that devotion to the One and that ascent of science which makes the ambition of the philosopher, and that love and those prayers by which some devout and ardent soul tends in its moral purity towards perfection—these are the great highways conducting to the height above the actual and the particular, where we stand in the immediate presence of the Infinite, who shines out as from the depths of the soul.

In another place in his works, Plotinus defines the ecstatic knowledge more exactly, presenting such properties of it as to reveal to us quite clearly that the infinite expansion of subjective knowledge is there meant.

When we see God [says Plotinus] we see him not by reason, but by something that is higher than reason. It is impossible however to say about him who sees that he sees, because he does not behold and discern two different things (the seer and the thing seen). He changes completely, ceases to be himself, preserves nothing of his I. Immersed in God, he constitutes one whole with Him; like the centre of a circle, which coincides with the centre of another circle.

239:1 According to the interpretation of the Southern Hindu school of occultism, the four states of consciousness are understood in somewhat different order. The most remote from the True, the most illusory, is the waking state; the second—sleep—is already nearer to the True; the third—deep sleep without dreams—contact with the True; and the fourth, sâmâdhi, or ecstasy—union with the True.

240:1 The conceptions of the subjective and of the objective should undergo a change. The usual terminology will be incorrect for an exact understanding. Everything phenomenal will become subjective; and the truly objective will be that which under ordinary conditions is regarded as subjective or non-existent.



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