Four and more
Whatever god it was, who out of chaos
Brought order to the universe, and gave it
Division, subdivision, he moulded earth
In the beginning, into a great globe,
Even on every side.
Ovid, Metamorphoses, 4
Most people do not have a firm grip of the fourfold way of thinking, although it is a classical concept with a long history. Its roots go back to the early days of mankind.
What is tetradic thinking? A look of incomprehension and raised eyebrows are often followed by a request to explain. Then it is my turn how to tell, in a few sentences, a complete philosophy of life.
Usually I decide, to preserve the light touch of conversation, to give some examples like the four directions of the winds or the four seasons. Sometimes I mention the four temperaments or the evangelists. Yes, that is common terrain, we know about them. I feel less comfortable as the conversation continues. We are only talking about illustrations and images, which allow a glimpse in the universe of the mind. Even so, the world itself remains hidden.
We all know the spirit of survival, the reflexes which save our life. The prehistoric man knew what to do when he stumbled across a ferocious animal crossing his path. Fight or flight. His reaction was not much different from a modern pedestrian trying to cross a street, while cars are approaching. The distance to the cars and their speed are vital and appropriate action has to be taken in a split second: either cross or stay. You make it or you don’t. A mistake, the wrong choice between yes and no, can make the difference between life and death.
Biological survival is based on dual thinking. The hostile environment constantly requires elementary decisions. We all know that and most of us are pretty good in taking them (otherwise we wouldn’t be here). The dual mind is geared to recognize opposites and stereotypes. The law of the jungle is a simple one. A mouse does not benefit from the idea that not all cats are killers.
One step further brings us out of the jungle with its danger zone and into the realm of rational consideration. Survival is no longer the name of the game – although it still urges constant attention. We can now sit back and think things over. Time is on our side. Decisions can be made in a thoughtful way: the ‘either’ and ‘or’ is joined by a third possibility, the ‘somewhere in between’. Or, like Goethe put it in a more poetic way (in the ‘Westöstlicher Divan’):
Dein Lied ist drehend wie das Sterngewölbe
Anfang und Ende immerfort dasselbe,
Und, was die Mitte bringt, ist offenbar
Das, was zu Ende bleibt und anfangs war.
Triple division offers new possibilities. Life becomes more complex, and sometimes less secure, but it is also more rewarding. The intermediate position adds an element of play to the communication. There is more than survival alone. Ideas, theories and dreamed visions will influence the communication. The threefold frame of mind offers a comprehensible context for the visible and invisible. It is the backbone of intellectual thinking. Its historical crown was shaped in the dialectic philosophy of Hegel (1770 – 1831), with the thesis, antithesis and the synthesis as the representatives of the threefold division.
The matter (of a primary division) is taken here to yet another magnitude: the fourfold division. Now the emphasis of a communication includes the previous steps, but adds another one to it. The survival-techniques and intellectual play gave us our basic existence and a world of technology, but more and more questions remained unanswered. In particular, those connected with human feelings. The deeper questions of life, which are fueled by an unknown source, do not have room for expansion in the confines of lower divisions thinking.
It is acknowledged that the complexity rises again in a tetradic vision. Subjectivity and objectivity are on equal terms and the boundaries between fact and fiction become less clear. The established world of science does not like that situation. Fact should be facts. The interpretation of facts should be unambiguous. Unfortunately, that is not the case (which even the modern scientists have to admit). The observer has transgressed into a dynamic interaction with the observed. The view depends on the width of thinking, with changing limitations.
The tetradic way of thinking caters for the different types of divisions. It is a frame of mind – this must be accepted – which has never been adopted as a philosophical ‘system’. However, its basics are as old as mankind itself. The last book solely dedicated to the fourfold (division) was written nearly thousand years ago by an anonymous Anglo-Saxon monk. It was titled the ‘Tractatus de Quaternario‘ and can be found in the Gonville and Caius College in Cambridge (Ms. 428). Nobody bothered, in the following ages to highlight this manuscript as a monument of a system of thought. The first mentioning by Montague Rhodes James in a descriptive catalog in 1908, and further references by Elizabeth SEARS (1986) and BURROW (1986) did not cause a stir.
These events put the present study into perspective. However, it also deprived our endeavor of its revolutionary character. There is nothing new under the sun, said Salomon, and how right he was. We are obliged to call the present book a ‘rediscovery’ of a world view in which intuition, thoughts, observation and feelings are equally important. Our insight will not be the first and will be not the last: it is a distinct stage in consciousness, which always occurs if the observer is provided with the peace to reach it.
The attentive reader will notice that the above-described development of division thinking – from dual to triple and quadruple – has an evolutionary connotation. The brain provides a conceptual picture, which is capable of producing ever-increasing divisions of a mental universe. The insight of an observer moving towards higher division thinking is a linear one, but that is only part of the story. Higher division offers the opportunity to leave the straitjacket of the linear and to develop a cyclic outlook. We can learn another language, with words and images derived from four different abstract departments, interacting in a circular way. Together they provide a grammar of a universal language. The Greek physician and skeptic philosopher Sextus Empericus pointed in that direction by saying: ‘Eyes and ears are poor witnesses for men if their souls do not understand the language’.
Communication is not only a matter of close observation, but also of registration in the right frame of mind. Life in general, and perhaps philosophy, in particular, should be an investigation into those structures: where are the boundaries of the concepts used to define and validate our visibility?
The answer lies in the division as the ultimate unity in a communication. And therefore, the number of parts on the outset is of prime interest. Like the Greek philosopher Pythagoras already stated in 550 BC: Number is the base of all. This statement – which is often misunderstood and used in a numerological context – refers to the fact that every type of information-exchange is rooted in a specific number of initial parts, a priori established on the outset of a communication.
A theoretical communication-model, based on a cyclic four-division was formulated in an earlier stage of the study (‘De Vier Landen’ (The Four Areas), 1992; unpublished). Abstract movements were caught in figures and graphs. Neologisms were used to express hitherto unknown concepts, in a spirit of what TATON (1957/1963) called:
‘To name a thing is to create it’.
A graphic representation of a ‘universal communication’ emerged at the end of this cognitive exercise. The graph showed the values of a ‘communication-factor’ (CF) during every conceivable communication. So there was a measure, derived from the initial partition of unity in a cyclic model, to approach the relation between the observer and the observed. This understanding is fascinating material, with some reminiscence to the ‘Philosopher’s Stone’ or the ‘Elixir of Life’ of the alchemists (fig. 1).
Fig. 1 – An alchemical laboratory as seen on an engraving of the middle of the eighteenth century (1747). The laboratory can be regarded as the first ‘scientific’ place of collection. The alchemist aimed at a transformation of the material to higher values, like gold and/or the Philosopher’s Stone (THOMPSON, 1932).
There will be no elaboration of the theoretical side of the model at present. It may be of historical interest, that the term ‘quadralectic‘ (or quadralistic) was first used (by the writer) as a neologism in November 1983 (in an unpublished book called ‘Van God Los’). The nomen of ‘quadralectic’ is closely related to the term ‘dialectic’. This expression signified in Greek philosophy a kind of practical logic and was used in a discussion to understand each other. The dialectic way is based on a dichotomous division in an oppositional setting. The quadralectic condition aims to be a logic tool of the same standard, but in a non-oppositional environment.
The tetradic perception conveys a world of difference in the dynamics of data interchange: not only the facts are important, but also the context in which they are presented. Visibility, as a powerful process, looses its ignorance. What we see and at which particular time is – in a cyclic setting – the key to the whole circle in time. The observer is a player in his or her own observation. It is a matter of energetic interplay from both sides. The active double dialectics can create a new world of insight.
These preliminary observations might have a philosophical touch, but readers should not be scared away. This study will be a preparation of the ground for further investigation in the unlimited land of the four-fold. My background as a geologist gave me a good insight in the scale of time and the floating character of divisions. That’s all. This knowledge remained in the back of my mind when I turned my attention to cultural history, in search of a fossilized system of thought. And when traces were found, it invited to a deeper understanding. This representation is a first report of that journey.
BURROW, J.A. (1986). The Ages of Man. A Study in Medieval Writing and Thought. Clarendon Press, Oxford. ISBN 0-19-811188-6
SEARS, Elizabeth (1986). The Ages of Man. Medieval Interpretations of the Life Cycle. Princeton University Press, Princeton, New Jersey. ISBN 0-691-04037-0
TATON, René (1957/1963)(tr. A.J. Pomerans). Ancient and Medieval Science – from Prehistory to AD 1450. Thames & Hudson, London.
THOMPSON, C.J.S. (1932). The Lure and Romance of Alchemy. George G. Harrap & Comp., London.