Musings on Tetrationality

For many years I was part of the Anglican Church of Canada, attending services regularly and participating actively in parish life. Thus I heard, forty or fifty times a year, the ritual recitation of the “first and great commandment”, and the second “like unto it”, that I should love the Lord my God with all my heart, and with all my soul, and with all my mind, and with all my strength, and my neighbour as myself. I then joined my companions in beseeching God to write both these laws in my heart. I would like to think God did that for me; they certainly became written in my memory. I can recite them with becoming accuracy even today, more than twenty years after I ceased to be a regular attender.

I remember one sermon in which the preacher explained, concerning the second commandment, that we are not required to like our neighbours, only to love them; not more than ourselves, only as much as. I found that idea consoling, and still do. Lest you think I am suggesting that a narrow kind of self-love is consistent with the commandment, please note that if you follow the first part you will inevitably find the right perspective on the second. The two parts are perfectly blended.

This commandment is in fact a triad of loving: God, self, neighbour. What we can see happening all around us now, however, makes it abundantly clear that the time to make it a tetrad arrived with full force some time ago, and we had better get on with it. Borrowing phrasing from one of the two positive commandments on the old list of ten, we should set about asking God, or whatever sense of higher purpose we believe in, to write the following further commandment on our hearts, and give it status like unto the others:


If we do not learn how to do that, and act accordingly, it appears we may find our days in the land shortened. Certainly they bid fair to be much more uncomfortable.

I have talked before, here or in other places, about the Leacock Tetrad of Knowledge + Imagination + Compassion + Humour, which I believe to hold considerable hope, perhaps the only hope, for lifting the governing Tetrad out of our hearts and putting it into action. I have tried to wrap the entire package of commandments, beliefs and casts of mind in simple symbolic form in the banner at the top of this blog. The colour bars come from Barnett Newman’s Voice of Fire. By laying them out horizontally, instead of vertically as the artist did, I am trying to admit the idea that the Voice must come from inside ourselves, that we cannot expect On High do all the work. On High has been voicing at us about these tetrads for some time, with little apparent effect except here and there, locally. Something is rotten, or at least deaf, in the Global Village.

I was moved the other day to speculate on why that might be happening. What voices are we listening to, telling us that the Voice of Fire, expressed in these Tetrads, can justly and safely be ignored? Perhaps they speak in tetrads too, such as the following, which for some reason came to me in adjectives, not nouns. Think of it as describing adverse casts of mind:


In other words, if the voice of this tetrad says anything, it would be that we are hoping that a combination of competition, consumption, technology, and science will get us out of the mess we are in, despite the obvious historical reality that they have played a huge part in getting us into it, or at least supporting us while we got into it ourselves. And if you think I am being a little hard on technology and science, then make a list of all the devices these actors have produced for us, and not only the wonderful beneficent ones, and ask yourself what it says,—the whole list,—about the cast of mind, the sense of direction, they bring to our search for well-being. They make tools for us. Marshall McLuhan tells us that first we shape our tools, then the tools take over and shape us. Do we really want to be shaped by some of those tools? Do they really have our best interests at heart?

I do not mean to suggest that competition, consumption, the invention of new tools, and rigorous specialized enquiry are wholly bad, only that we may be indulging too single-mindedly in them, too fast, without taking time to filter them through the whole Leacock Tetrad of


with the assistance of


while giving full honour and respect to

GOD (higher purpose) + PERSONS (individual) + PEOPLE (collective) + NATURE.

Maybe this suggests another tetrad:


Something along those lines, perhaps. What is a tetrad of tetrads? Two tetrads interwoven like the double helix of DNA might form an ogdoad. Four of them? A quadrupad?

PWC; January 21, 2020

Revelation on Labyrinthine Lane

I am trying to imagine what it would be like to drive from here to Edmonton, Alberta, and back by a labyrinthine route, here being my home on Bruce Peninsula, in extreme northwestern southwestern Ontario. I believe that the answer is: difficult. The Labyrinthine Travelling Experience,—if, that is, you follow the Cretan model,—requires you to lay out your route in a series of seven linked rings with your destination in the middle. You sojourn along one ring, then reverse direction onto the next one. Furthermore, you begin with the third ring, and proceed in a rigorously predetermined order: third, second, first, fourth, seventh, sixth, fifth, and into the centre. Then you sojourn back home in reverse order. The rings which you travelled in one direction going in, you follow in the opposite direction going out. Highway planners do not often think this way. Linearity is their watchword or, in many parts of this country, a severe kind of rectangularity dictated by the survey grid. You could, in fact, use the survey grid in farming country to lay out any number of labyrinthine drives, and it might be quite fun to do that.

My choice of Edmonton as a destination is not arbitrary. There live two of my offspring, their spouses, and their offspring, their mother, and many friends, the happy legacy of a previous life. It’s a bit of a hike,—some 3,500 kilometres,—and I don’t go there as often as I would like. I don’t go there at all by a labyrinthine route, assuming I could work one out. The idea is so silly I am not even sure why I am talking about it.

When it comes to the Bible, however, the idea is not silly at all, at least if we take up the scheme laid out by Professor Northrop Frye in his mind-expanding book, The Great Code: The Bible and Literature. There, in his chapter called Typology II, he lays out the the seven Phases of Revelation. I invite you to think of them as the seven rings of your labyrinth, as follows:

First Phase: Creation
Second Phase: Revolution
Third Phase: Law
Fourth Phase: Wisdom
Fifth Phase: Prophecy
Sixth Phase: Gospel
Seventh Phase: Apocalypse

These phases correspond naturally to specific books of the Bible, and can therefore be re-arranged in labyrinthine order without difficulty:

First Ring: Law
Second Ring: Revolution
Third Ring: Creation
Fourth Ring: Wisdom
Fifth Ring: Apocalypse
Sixth Ring: Gospel
Seventh Ring: Prophecy

Quite frankly, I think that arrangement makes a whole lot of sense, perhaps even more than the original. We begin with the laws and customs we inherit at birth. We revolt against them. We create something new, during which onerous process,—this is the longest ring,—we become susceptible to wisdom, leading in a brief, intuitive leap to a apocalypse,—this is the shortest ring,—revealing a gospel (‘good news’), which calls us to prophesy to the dry bones in order to wake them up. That sounds to me like a noble course for a life.

Two issues remain. First, what is the centre, the point at which we turn around and return whence we came, reversing the order of the rings? Is it perhaps the course that we must follow in order to realize the potentials unleashed by the awakening of the bones, beginning with a further round of prophesy and ending with a new environment of laws? Indeed that is possible, although note that, regardless of the wisdom gained along the way, we will require another revolution after the second creation before our laws become rightly formed.

Second, the way of the labyrinth requires us to change direction, or perspective, or line of thought, in some meaningful way from one ring to the next. Can we achieve that by switching between the right and left halves of our brains, assuming that brains do in fact work that way? Or could it mean alternating our ways of thinking, as in Professor Frye’s distinction between ‘rational thinking’ and ‘mythical-typological’ thinking, in order to cultivate our Both-And minds? Better that, certainly, than Either-Or.

PWC::January 15, 2020