Book 17 — Tertium Organum

by P D Ouspensky


by The Editor

Contents List:

The Centre
"Occult" Science
About Tertium Organum
Cultural Inertia
About the Author

Return to:

Title Page
Ardue Library
Ardue Site Plan


On the evening of 10 October, 2006, I was privileged to attend a lecture given by Joel Primack and Nancy Ellen Abrams, a husband-and-wife team who were launching their new book, The View from the Centre of the Universe.

The book is about cosmology — the study of the origin and structure of the Universe. Primack, an eminent astrophysicist, is a professor at the University of California, Santa Cruz. His wife is an award-winning philosopher of science, writer, artist, and lawyer. Their joint presentation gave a fascinating glimpse of the "expansion" of the Universe, not only in a literal sense, or even as a result of the ever-increasing power of the instruments through which the structure of the Universe is investigated, but particularly as it is interpreted in the minds of the men and women who call themselves "cosmologists".

For most people of my generation, it comes as a shock to be told that all the visible matter in the Universe (i.e. all the galaxies, stars, planets, etc.) accounts for only about 0.5 percent of its mean density, and that nearly all of this visible matter consists of hydrogen and helium. About 4 or 5 per cent is invisible atomic matter, including loose protons and electrons. About 25 percent of the Universe "is cold dark matter", which is not made of atoms or any of the elementary particles that compose atoms, but its immense gravity holds the spinning galaxies together. The other 70 percent seems to be even stranger than dark matter. It may be something Einstein called the 'cosmological constant' and now it is often called "dark energy. Dark energy is a property of space itself, and it causes space to repel space, speeding up the expansion of the Universe." [The View from the Centre of the Universe, p.p. 99, 100. This seems to me to be another way of expressing Reginald Kapp's New Theory of Gravitation. — Ed.]

When the presumed reality of 'dark matter' and 'dark energy' can be supported by other new ideas such as Supersymmetry [introduced on p. 107 — Ed], the market value of traditional materialism must be taking a dive. We are also told on p. 141 that "Much of our future already exists — it just hasn't gotten here yet". This suggests that our ideas about time, as well as about space and matter, require revision.

I heartily recommend the book (published by Fourth Estate, London, ISBN-13 978-0-00-719352-3) as an authoritative review of the current state of the subject. Perhaps even more importantly, the imaginative symbolism through which the main ideas are summarised will resonate with those readers of the Ardue Web Site whose quest is for a deeper understanding of their personal relationship with the Universe.

The Centre

The following is taken from the dust-cover of the book: Ever since Galileo discovered that Earth is not the centre of the universe, we've thought of 'the universe' as either an enormous ice-cold vacuum or a setting for science fiction. Now, thanks to startling discoveries in astronomy and physics, we can see that the universe is far more coherent than anyone ever imagined it to be. For the first time in history, we have the necessary tools, theories, and thinking to create a science-based cosmology that explains not only how the universe works but what our place in it really is.

I wish to qualify the expression "science-based" because no matter to what extent the range of our sense organs may be expanded by telescopes in one direction and by microscopes and high energy colliders in the other, our observations must continue to be interpreted by the human psyche. For each of us, therefore, the personal psyche is the centre of the Universe and the Universe is the unified resultant of our ideas about it. Scientific instruments improve the quantity and quality of our data: but our personal Universe is, and always shall be, a product of thought and feeling.

I also wish to make what many may consider to be a pedantic point: I like to spell Universe with a capital U. This is not merely because it includes the prefix 'uni-' meaning one, but more importantly because the idea of the essential oneness of the world underlies all knowledge. As the anonymous author of Meditations on the Tarot puts it: "Truth has no other meaning than that of the reduction of the plurality of phenomena to an essential unity — of facts to laws, of laws to principles, of principles to essence or being". For that reason, I am ready to accept a Universe of many cosmoses each of which may be studied as a virtually self-contained system, but a universe of universes not only does violence to the language but seems to me to be logical nonsense.

It behoves us, therefore, before we passively acquiesce in the ideas of professional scientists and philosophers, to look inwards and examine the psyche which is the centre of our personal Universe and interprets scientific data for scientists and philosophers just as it does for the other folk-in-the-street.

"Occult" Science

The nature of the Universe has from time immemorial been a preoccupation of the most profound thinkers, and the fruits of their thinking have in general been hidden (occulted) from the world at large. Nevertheless, some fragments occasionally come to light and are published in the works of a few authors, notable among whom was P D Ouspensky, to whom is attributed most of the "lectures" in the "Hermetic Philosophy Faculty" of the Ardue "University". I'm sure regular readers will acknowledge Ouspensky as a profound thinker and philosopher whose work has been shamefully neglected in academic circles. Perusal of Lecture 5 in that series introduces the reader to the idea of the "marriage" of cosmology with psychology and this theme is further elaborated in Cosmic "Chemistry" and Relativity.

About Tertium Organum

The View from the Centre of the Universe prompted me to look around for other sources with the aid of which I might strike a satisfactory balance in my own thinking between "blind" science and "enlightened" esotericism. My first thought was to turn to Ouspensky's A New Model of the Universe, the second English edition of which was published in 1934. This is a book of essays on esoteric subjects including cosmology in chapter X which gives the book its title. Chapter X makes use of conclusions arrived at in an earlier work, Tertium Organum, the second English edition of which was published in 1922.

On re-reading Tertium Organum, I was reminded of the profundity of the author's thought and deeply impressed by certain subtleties that had previously escaped me. I therefore determined that I could offer no greater treat to readers of these pages than the re-publication of the book in its entirety.

Ouspensky himself says: 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.

Cultural Inertia

The pace of change, artificially exaggerated by present-day communications sytems, distracts us from the fact that it takes not centuries, but millennia, for a significant proportion of the human population of the Earth to understand and fully appreciate the findings of the most brilliant and far-seeing minds of earlier times.

The View from the Centre of the Universe, first published in 2006, is undoubtedly an excellent and "up-to-date" book. Yet it comes as something of a shock to me to find how much of what I read in this new book was contained in essence in Professor Oumoff's address, delivered in 1911, which is extensively quoted in Chapter XI of Tertium Organum. Furthermore, there is much in that address, to say nothing of the rest of the book, that neither physical nor cosmological science has yet caught up with.

Clearly, the world was not ready for Tertium Organum when it first appeared. I hope that this re-publication in the most rapid and most comprehensive medium yet invented will reach a significant number of those who may be intellectually and spiritually ready for it.


At the beginning of the book, Ouspensky gives two quotations from the Christian Bible.

The first is taken from the Revelation of St John The Divine, chapter 10, verse 6: ...and swear ... that there should be time no longer....

The second is from The Epistle of Paul the Apostle to the Ephesians, Chapter 3, verses 17, 18: ...that ye, being rooted and grounded in love, may be able to comprehend with all saints what is the breadth, and length, and depth, and height...

His choice of these quotations is explained at the end of the book.

About the Author

Peter Demianovich Ouspensky, 1878-1947, was born in Moscow. Raised in an artistic and intellectual family, Peter refused to follow conventional academic schooling. In spite — and probably partly because — of this, Ouspensky was a major contributor to Twentieth Century ideas. He anticipated many of the key questions in philosophy, psychology and religion that have driven and informed us throughout the century.

While employed as a journalist, he travelled widely, pursuing his personal studies and what he referred to as his search for the Miraculous. Tertium Organum, written in 1912, and A New Model of the Universe, written in 1914 (second English edition 1934), reveal his stature as a thinker and his preoccupation with the problems of man's existence.

Ouspensky met up with G I Gurdjieff in 1914 and studied intensively with him between 1915 and 1918. Thereafter, his interest centred on the practical study and promotion of Gurdjieff's methods for the development of consciousness in man. After 1921, he lived quietly in England conducting his own study groups. In 1940, he moved to the United States with some of his London pupils and continued lecturing until his death in 1947, shortly after returning to England.

In Search of the Miraculous, or Fragments of an Unknown Teaching, an account of his relationship with Gurdjieff, was published in 1949. The Fourth Way — The Teachings of G I Gurdjieff, consisting of verbatim extracts from Ouspensky's talks and answers to questions between 1921 and 1946, was first published in 1957. These two books provide the material for the Hermetic Philosophy "lectures" in the Ardue "University".

In my opinion, Ouspensky is too often and too lightly dismissed as "a disciple of Gurdjieff". Attentive readers of Tertium Organum will readily recognise his stature as a first-rate philosopher and teacher in his own right.