15. Thinking in fours

Historical occurrences of tetradic thinking

The search for tetradic thinking will initially be focused on the occurrence of four-fold imagery. The assumption that people thinking in ‘fours’ will express themselves in ‘fours’ seems a reasonable one. A particular quantity (of something) at a certain point of a communication (in place and time) offers the opportunity to measure and evaluate. This deductive approach is the hallmark of modern scientific research.

However, it is good to realize, that ‘quantity’ has a different connotation in quadralectic thinking. A multitude of presence (imagery) is typical for the Second (II) and Fourth (IV) Quadrant. A deductive procedure in these particular areas of a communication will lead to an ‘idea’ (in the Platonic sense, called a ‘muun’ in the quadralectic philosophy) or a ‘whole’, as initially described by Jan SMUTS (1926/1936) in his excellent book ‘Holism and Evolution’.

A search for occurrences of tetradic thinking – in a quadralectic context – has to go further than the established scientific method. It has to take the notion of the different types of identities (in the various quadrants) into account. Only an understanding of the nature of a communication in terms of a division pattern can offer progress.

An image offers the chance to reconstruct its position in a chosen type of division-thinking. A survival strategy prefers opposites, and it is possible to see all imaginary accordingly. The status of the ‘facts’, which are gathered in this way, will always be limited by the lower division status (of ‘yes’ and ‘no’). The three-partition adds a stage of contemplation in the interaction. Observations, which are made in this conceptual frame (like the Christian faith did in its imagery of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit), will always bear the limitations of their initial intellectual setting.

Finally, it is possible to observe in a four-division mode. This type of observation will lead to various types of ‘facts’, depending on the position held in the communication. The ‘scientific’ process is completed with a description of this position on the full communication cycle.

An observation must be placed in the right context, i.e. as a (conscious) notion of division thinking. The ‘biased’ character of such a psychological act must be accepted. The ‘objectivity’ of the old-fashioned dualistic-scientific frame work should be questioned. This cherished impartiality is, in the words of Richard WRIGHT (1957), ‘a fabricated concept, a synthetic intellectual construction devised to enable others to know the general conditions under which one has done something, observed the world or an event in that world’.

And he continued: ‘The basic assumption behind all so-called objective attitudes is this: If others care to assume my mental stance and through empathy, duplicate the atmosphere in which I speak, if they can imaginatively grasp the factors in my environment and a sense of the impulses motivating me, they will, if they are of a mind to, be able to see, more or less, what I’ve seen, will be capable of apprehending the same general aspects and tones of reality that comprise my world, that world that I share daily with all other men.’

Objectivity and subjectivity lose their general meaning in higher division thinking. They are still part of the communication-as-a-whole, but their oppositional nature is restricted to the limited context of lower division thinking. Classical science has to realize that ‘subjectivity’ will always be part of the equation.

These philosophical reflections do not mean that an investigation should not start in an area of moderate to a high empirical presence. An eternal search for the unique is just as pointless as the intention to cover an unlimited multiplicity. Limits are important and should be given. They give subsequent researchers the means to criticize the assumptions, propose other boundaries and continue to scale the scientific findings.

An initial reconnaissance of tetradic images can start with a symbolism of the sun. The sun wheel, swastikas, stars, rosettes and cross-figures in a wide variety of shapes occur in very different, global locations from Indian pottery in America (fig. 75), a bullhead from Crete (fig. 76), early Chinese objects, in proto-Elamic art, plates from Mesopotamia and pottery from archaic Boeotia (Eastern Turkey), to mention only a few (fig. 77).


Fig. 75 – Some quadripartite designs on plates of the Mount Builders in Tennessee (1 – 3) represent the ‘four worlds’ concept. Similar motifs are found on pottery, stone, copper and shells of regions in Alabama, Georgia, Mississippi and Arkansas. 4 – 6: Bird’s motives on shells from Tennessee. Many Indian cultural expressions point to a tetradic background and a firm understanding of the ‘four worlds’ as a frame of mind. In: NAYLOR, 1975.


Fig. 76 – This head of a bull is decorated with tetradic motifs in the shape of clover-leafs. The popular belief of the fortune-bringing four-leafed clover might be well related to the ancient way of depicting tetradic motifs like the ones shown here. The meaning of such signs is understood to represent a balanced four-parted universe. Crete, 1600 BC. British Museum, London.


Fig. 77 – Some examples of tetradic symbols on ceramics from various places of the world. 1. Ceramics from Ma-tch’ang; 2. Painted ceramic from Yang-chao. The tetradic thought is visualized in a whirl. The half-moons point to a division under a good cosmic constellation; 3 – 5. Ceramic (plates) from Susa I; 6. An archaic bowl from Boeotia (with an ‘oriental influence’), seventh century, Lake Van, East Turkey. The Magna Mater protects the cattle against the wolves. In: HENTZE (1932).

ROES (1933) called attention to the influence of the sun-symbolism on the Greek geometric art. Such lines can be drawn, but the correspondence is not necessarily due to sun-worship practices. They may find their frame of reference in a common type of division-thinking, which results in an associated symbolism. The sun, as a unifying element of primal light, would be – in a modern interpretation – the representation of the First Quadrant, the invisible invisibility. Many signs and features of ‘primitive’ art might have been inspired and executed by tetradic experiences.

To cover all occurrences of quadruple symbolism in different cultures would be virtual impossible. Therefore, a selection of four major cultural units is made (Egypt, Greece, Rome and Europe) and even within these groups a drastic reduction of examples is necessary. The choice is inspired by the importance of these civilizations on the writer’s outlook of the world in time and place. It is also a quest for the inspiration behind the quadralectic way of thinking, and for the local roots of this timeless communication tool. It would be satisfying if a true picture of a philosophical reality emerges in the four-fold world. In the end there will be nothing to prove, only to suggest. Wisdom is the width of thinking and therefore, Pythagoras was right: the number (of the initial division), determining the dimensions of our view, is the base of all.


HENTZE, Carl (1932). Mythes et symboles lunaires (Chine ancienne, civilisations anciennes de l’asie, peuples limitrophes du Pacifique). Editions ‘de Sikkel’, Antwerpen.

NAYLOR, Maria (Ed.)(1975). Authentic Indian Designs: 2500 illustrations from reports of the Bureau of American Ethnology. Dover Publications, New York. ISBN 0-486-23170-4

ROES,  Anna (1933). Greek Geometric Art. Its Symbolism and its Origin. H.D. Tjeenk Willink & Zoon N.V., Amsterdam/Oxford University  Press, London.

SMUTS, J.C. (1926/1936). Holism and Evolution. Macmillan and Co., Ltd., London.

WRIGHT, Richard N. (1957). White Man, Listen ! Doubleday, Garden City, New York.

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