The Hidden Third
by Basarab Nicolescu
Quantum Prose Inc., NY, NY, 2016
183 pp., illus. black& white. $19.25 USD
Reviewed by Rob Harle
The Hidden Third is a collection of well over nine hundred "poetic theorems" or "poetic aphorisms" from the mind and pen of Romanian theoretical physicist Basarab Nicolescu. This work is translated from the French Théorèmes poétiques by William Garvin. Nicolescu is a champion of, and very active in the field of, Transdisciplinarity being founder of The International Center for Transdisciplinary Research.
The poetic theorems are grouped under thirteen sections so as to retain some vague coherence of the widely varying subject matter. I say vague because as Tavares states in his Foreword, "…these perplexing theorems follow no specific order: straying from the imposition of any narrative sequence or fixed relationship between cause and effect that so often restricts digression" (p. 10). The sections are as follows:
1 – Levels of Reality
2 – Reason
3 – Science and Tradition
4 – Meaning
5 – Transdisciplinarity
6 – The Quantum Poetic
7 – Cosmodernity
8 – Stupidity
9 – Nature
10 – The Hidden Third
11 – God
12 – Life/Death
13 – I
To try and give the reader some real idea of this book, I am going to arbitrarily insert random selections throughout this review of the poetic theorems.
"The end of history is only a fantasy engendered by negligence." (91) (94 p.)
This book seems to be approachable on two distinctly separate levels. The first is from a highly intellectual, deeply theoretical level with an existing understanding of Nicolescu's transdisciplinarity movement. It is as though Nicolescu is a guru uttering enigmatic little gems for his devotees to ponder or contemplate. His approach to understanding existence, life, and so on is from the perspective of the Hidden Third, – the liminal zone between subjectivity and objectivity, the space between binary oppositions. The second approach is from a curious lay reader perhaps interested in cross-disciplinary approaches to understanding quantum phenomena, cosmology and answers to the meaning of life.
"The only thing that's really worth seeking in this world is the Hidden Third." (1) (133 p.)
The approach from the first level is reasonably clear: to disseminate the thinking of Nicolescu, as mentioned, at this level the book is only accessible to a very small minority of those in the know.
"The binary degeneration of religions can only lead to their dying out." (90 (84 p.)
The purpose and relevance at the second level of accessibility eludes me other than that it provides a single English collection of the "poetic theorems" of Nicolescu, stretching the imagination the book could be useful for; (a) finding an interesting contentious quote for a greeting card; (b) finding one for contemplation.
From my understanding a poetic theorem or poetic aphorism is a very short, poetic style statement that embodies a more-or-less universal truth. An example, "The sun shines and brings forth life to the living:" This is not contentious and open to being dismissed as false – it also has a light poetic feel. The same cannot be said of Nicolescu's blunt, unpoetic, openly controversial statements!
"The demonstration of God is a monstrosity, invented by lifeless thinkers." (99) (37 p.)
I must remind the reader this is not a critique of Nicolescu's work per se, it is a review of a book. However, whatever the reader thinks of the extensive entries themselves, this is definitely not a book for the general reader, nor is it a book to sit down and read in long sessions, rather one to dip into from time to time.
"The greatest responsibility of all: the transmission of mystery." (14) (166 p.)
I think the book, and consequently the lay reader's access to Nicolescu's world view, would have benefited immensely with two or three short explanatory essays to help with orientation. It is a shame the book lacks this as I believe he has many brilliant ideas, and a unique approach to understanding reality that would benefit the general public.
As it stands I found the book highly disappointing and possibly the most irritating book I have had to endure.
"Those we call "intelligent people" are often merely brilliant apostles for the obscurity of stupidity." (25) (100 p.)