Tertium Organum, Chapter 4 (Time)


Reference: Tertium Organum

The following is a summary as well as a commentary on Chapter 4 of Tertium Organum by P D Ouspensky. This is a powerful chapter, which, while looking at the dimension of time more closely, unravels the nature of consciousness.

As mentioned before, a four-dimensional body would be the tracing of the motion of a three-dimensional body upon the dimension not contained in it. We noticed the fourth dimension to be time. Therefore, a 4D body would be the complete history of a 3D body from beginning to end.

Ouspensky says,

Kant regards time as he does space: as a subjective form of our receptivity; i.e., he says that we create time ourselves, as a function of our receptive apparatus, for convenience in perceiving the outside world. Reality is continuous and constant, but in order to make possible the perception of it, we must dissever it into separate moments; imagine it as an infinite series of separate moments out of which there exists for us only one. In other words, we perceive reality as if through a narrow slit, and what we are seeing through this slit we call the present; what we did see and now do not see–the past; and what we do not quite see but are expecting the future.

Each momentary view of a 3D space is then a cross-section, or slice, of the 4D space. The moment acts like a narrow slit through which the 3D space is viewed. The views follow each other moment by moment, just like the frames of a film follow each other in front of the eye of a movie camera.

The consciousness focuses on one moment at a time, like the “eye of the camera” focusing on one frame of a film at a time.

The moment currently under the focus of consciousness is the present. The moments that have passed through the focus are in the past. And the moments that are expected to come into focus are in the future.

This does not mean that the past moments have ceased to exist, or that future moments have yet to come into existence. A moment exists whether it is in the past or in the future. If eternity exists, then each moment is eternal. It simply comes into focus and then moves out of focus.

Eternity is the characteristic of the four-dimensional space.

The physical perceptions form the thrust of consciousness. The present moment is felt most sharply through the physical perceptions. The mental perception spreads out from this focus. It perceives the past moments as memory and future moments as expectation. The physical and mental perceptions operate in concert.

The idea of time is composed of perception with conception of the past, of the present, and of the future.

The moments are connected to each other in continuity as in a flow. They follow each other in a cause-effect relationship or with a functional interdependence. But the future is neither predestined nor completely indefinite.

Ouspensky says,

In every given moment all the future of the world is predestined and is existing, but is predestined conditionally, i.e., it will be such or another future according to the direction of events at a given moment, unless there enters a new fact, and a new fact can enter only from the side of consciousness and the will resulting from it. It is necessary to understand this, and to master it.
Besides this we are hindered from a right conception of the relation of the present toward the future by our misunderstanding of the relation of the present to the past. The difference of opinion exists only concerning the future; concerning the past all agree that it has passed, that it does not exist now–and that it was such as it has been. In this last lies the key to the understanding of the incorrectness of our views of the future. As a matter of fact, in reality our relation both to the past and to the future is far more complicated than it seems to us. In the past, behind us, lies not only that which really happened, but that which could have been. In the same way, in the future lies not only that which will be, but everything that may be.

The past and the future may be equally undetermined, equally exist in all their possibilities, and equally exist simultaneously with the present; but, throughout their complex relationship, they are consistent with each other.


Time as a fourth dimension is not geometrical. It is not a line extending from the infinite future into the infinite past. Instead it is a characteristic of consciousness.

As the focus of consciousness broadens, the sense of the present moment also broadens. It covers more of past and more of future, and the relationships among them. It begins to comprehend a larger spread of time with greater clarity.

A wider focus can see with clarity the combination of past and present events leading up to future events in a single instant.

The sense of motion arises as the momentary views enter and leave the focus of consciousness. With widening focus of consciousness, the sense of motion becomes steadier and calmer. Motion becomes more hectic with narrowing focus of consciousness.

This universe of motion arises with the narrowing of the focus of consciousness.

Thus motion and consciousness are directly related to each other.


Why consciousness is so narrowly focused to one moment at a time? Why is consciousness not broad?

Here we are up against the very basic nature of consciousness. Just like matter, consciousness also has inertia because of its inherent makeup. A consciousness consists of a certain level of inertia, which determines its characteristic focus, and resists any change to that state of focus.

The focus of consciousness and the associated inertia alludes to the nature of “I”.

This opens wide horizons to regions unexplored.

Based on the above, the following is my firm belief.

The way to reduce the inertia of “I,” and broaden its focus of consciousness, is to resolve inconsistencies as they come to attention one by one.

This may not be easy, but it has to be done. Actually, it is being done through these chapters of Tertium Organum.


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