The Hidden Third
Basarab Nicolescu, trans. by William Garvin. Quantum Prose (quantumprose.org), 2016. PP. 188 $19.95. Paper
Reviewed by David Appelbaum
“The greatest responsibility of all: the transmission of the mystery.”
In response to this call, physicist and author Basarab Nicolescu’s recent fragmentary text offers a view of humanity’s current spiritual situation. In thirteen sections, items as brief as a few words are linked to delineate the cosmic obligation, at the same time respecting the silence of the sacred. Following suggestions of Maurice Blanchot, the fragments remind us that the whole is never given and that the beginning of understanding is always imminent. Fragmentation also mirrors a prime discovery that Nicolescu draws from his own area of scientific expertise, broken symmetry. Physicists now believe that a breakdown in laws of symmetry supplied the initial condition of the Big Bang. Thirdly, humans’ relation to God (or “Absolute Evidence” in Nicolescu’s account) and to the celestial order has ruptured. The holy reconciling force has withdrawn and the pathway once illuminated by it, is no longer visible. While we now pray for divine support, no reply is forthcoming.
The call, moreover, is blocked from our ears by deep habits of thought and language. Inherited from the ancient Greek world, their source lies in binary logic: either this or that but not both. Nicolescu’s rejection of binary-ism is strong: “The fiendish dialectics of binary thought have the redoubtable yet subtle force of being able to kill in the name of ideas.” The death consists in foreclosing the middle, the “third not given”: what is there before and remains there after the division into two. Yet that death preserves in hiding the excluded element, which allows a direct perception of multiple levels of reality, up to that of Absolute Evidence. Fear of confronting a many-dimensioned cosmos lies behind the embrace of the binary. We opt for ready knowledge and survival of the status quo rather than participation in a work of co-creation. Because we fail to see the ambiguity in “yes or no,” our spirit is blinded and put in shackles.
Quantum physics recognizes the milieu, the interval between, as the null space. It is pregnant with mystery. Similarly, “quantum imagination is the energizing circulation between two or more levels of reality linked by discontinuity.” Thus, poetry provides the precise means of recovering access to our work. The French edition of The Hidden Third bears the title Theorems Poetiques. Poetically honed words can take a quantum leap into meaning. With them, it is possible to engage the work bequeathed to the human place in the cosmos: to combat entropy with “anthropy,” involution with evolution. That way, the divine expenditure of creation is restored through a human search for consciousness. “Human” must be understood as both the species and the individual. Degraded as it descends from the galactic to the molecular, consciousness needs replenishment if the cosmoses are not to flounder. The need speaks to humanity’s place in the universe and at the same time directly addresses our responsibility with respect to the mysterium tremendum.
Logic can tell us that an inclusive (as opposed to a binary or exclusive) disjunction is triadic: this or that or both. It wagers on the contradiction contained in saying “both presence and absence.” In the coincidence of opposites (Nicolescu’s “Hidden Third”), reality hides. “Nature is in perpetual oscillation between constraint and chance, which is why it always chooses the Hidden Third.” The job of the poet, to articulate contradictory reality, consists not so much in unveiling the Absolute Evidence as unveiling its concealment; the “theorems” of the poet are neither explanatory nor even understandable. They address us with respect to humanity’s cosmic position and remember us to the mystery. The poet works for God.
Where does modern science stand in the essential poetic enterprise? Himself a high-level particle physicist, Nicolescu reports the present crisis of the hard sciences: the demand, as he puts it, for an “ontological opening,” a recognition of being. Certainly, if thought is expressive of being, then one’s level of being has a great impact on the level of thinking. From classical times to modernity, from Plato to Wittgenstein, deep thinkers have linked logic and mysticism, science and esotericism. Nicolescu exclaims: “The grandeur of science—allowing evidence for the a-logical to emerge.” It is even more the case during the last century with the emergence of a quantum world. There, Heisenberg has implied that conscious observation has a physical effect on the micro level of materiality, and since macro systems are composed of infinitesimal ones, on the galactic level as well. The full implications of his discovery are still unfolding, but we can assume that human consciousness—consciousness in general—is a player in the field. Perhaps the core of the mystery lies in that fold between observer and observed, when the walls come down and the researcher is face to face with the limitless mystery of her position. There, reductionism, binary thinking, and stupidity come to an end. (“There is only one forbidden tree in the garden of Eden: the one of stupidity.”)
Collapse of the subject-object distinction, on which all grammar of thought is based, opens to the interval between. It is the non-place (Plato’s khora) between entropic and anthropic movement, or as Nicolescu says, the “perpetual movement between evolution and involution.” Nothing is known with certainty as long as knowledge requires the separation of one from the other. There in the gap between, if one keeps courage and abandons the urge to manipulate data, an instinct toward poetics can be met. Remembering the triadic nature of reality, one has help: “the secret weapon of the included middle: the poetic word.” Its evanescence orients us toward a reality without ground, which calls perpetually to our imagination. He speaks of a “quantum imagination…whose images surpass anything sense organs can conceive.” Though he doesn’t say it, the imaginal field (distinct from both sense perception and cognition) is actively receptive to the call. We must learn to trust its trace.
The original French title says more than the English translation. Poetic Theorems suggests a further dimension of the book. The style of arranging splinters of ideas shares the deep ambiguity of thought itself. A killing or a giving life to. To remember the third that hides within the choice is the nub of Nicolescu’s concern—conscience. Conscience has a cosmic function: to make one aware of one’s obligation to help preserve and maintain “all the results of his Endlessness’s creation.” Vision lies in that direction, in a movement toward Absolute Evidence. When one sees, it is with the selfsame eyes through which God sees. ♦