The phenomenon of the four

For Empedocle, the archetypal elements of the World were four: Air, Earth, Water, Fire. The Pythagoreans found in the Tetrade sum perfection, ideal root and noumenic of all numbers and all physical things.

“It is a strange lusus nature and that the main chemical element of the body organism is tetravalent coal” – continues Jung throughout history – “such an analogy would be a deplorable intellectualism devoid of taste if the phenomenon of the four were a mere invention of consciousness and not a spontaneous production of the objectively psychic, of the unconscious”.

The phenomenon of the four is still an open question, it is beginning but not end, it is revolution in continuous discovery. In the early decades of the twentieth century, the physicist Einstein overcame the Positivism that had made Newtonian theory of absolute space-time, a dogma. The theory of relativity, in fact, intrigued and frightened at the same time, had the characters of a geometric curve that would flood frivolous certainties, and that unknowingly became a proponent of the “phenomenon of the four”. “Modern physics, in order to arrive at a comprehensive vision of totality, had to introduce time as a fourth dimension, which to us seems something completely different from the three known dimensions of space”, reports psychotherapist J. Jacobi.

In contemporary terms, the indispensable completeness of the number Four is re-emerged. From a three-dimensional thought we are moving towards a four-dimensional. Here, then, that “the phenomenon of the four” has a name, and it is called: TIME. Dali’s unmistakable curves have summed up the theme in full.

S. Dali, In Search of the Fourth Dimension (1979)

The assembly illustrates the search for a temporal dimension impossible to grasp with the use of perception, yet existing in the three-dimensional continuity of images: the “School of Athens”, Christian spirituality (the cave that refers to the tomb) and the eternity of time (the clocks).

How many times have we said, “I don’t have time.” As if we were in control over infinity, on eternity. Time is not one, time is lived. It’s like getting on a carousel and not enjoying the ride because you think about which other to go, just finished the first round. Nothing new, some might object. Yet for 20th century scientists, time was a “novitas”, a revelation simply because it transcends our reality, but at the same time it is the first engine.

The fourth dimension is so boundless that it escapes human comprehension that it leads to almost nothingness. Not everyone has the patience to listen to the time, time turns out. In English “discover” translates with “find out” literally “find out, find beyond”. Time lies beyond our limits, beyond our frantic schedules, beyond those inconsistent human relationships enslaved by a screen in liquid crystals.

U. Boccioni, Simultaneous Visions (1911)

Henri Bergson focused a lot on the issue of time in an anti-positist key. He distinguished the time of science from the time of life. The first objective, quantitative, spatialized, “can be compared to a necklace of pearls, all the same and distinct from each other”. The second is naturalized time, time full of meaning, quality, ultimately the lived one. “For the individual it is always a duration: a concrete and variable time interval, in which the events of life take place. More than a pearl necklace, it resembles the thread of a tangled ball.”

We don’t have control over time, time changes and we change as well. But we have time to manage our time, we have time to make every single moment of ours vital, just find out and know it, just have a know of the importance of the phenomenon of the four.

Evening sparingly in fundo east. (It’s late to save when you’ve come to the bottom) – Seneca.


  • J. Jacobi, The Psychology of C. G. Jung; Trad. Arrigo Vita and Ada Chinato, Turin: Bollati Borighieri, 1973
  • Nicola Ubaldo, Philosophy. History of ideas from its origins to today, 2016
  • Seneca, Epistula to Lucilium I

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