The Theosophical Forum – March 1939


Dr. J. W. Dunne has written a new book, The New Immortality (1) which is a continuation of his previous books, An Experiment with Time, and The Serial Universe, reviewed in our numbers for May and November, 1938. But it is much briefer and in more popular form, and the author must be congratulated for having made things as clear to the ordinary understanding as it is possible to make such a subject. But of course it will be necessary that the book should be studied through, since we cannot condense what is already a condensation.

It will be remembered that Mr. Dunne in his previous books speaks of an indefinite number of different orders of time, moving relatively to one another; but here, for simplicity's sake and as a first step, he limits himself to two, which he calls false time and real time. The false time, that which we wrongly call time, he represents as the traveling of a point of attention along the field of the real time. The present-moment view which we have of a thing is an abstraction from reality. The reality is four-dimensional, and we are to conceive ourselves as three-dimensional beings traveling through this four-dimensional world. Here we may appositely quote from The Secret Doctrine:

Time is only an illusion produced by the succession of our states of consciousness as we travel through eternal duration. (I, 37)

What we call time therefore is a sort of spatial dimension, or, since it represents a velocity, the term "vector" may be more applicable. Past and future events exist in the real time, but we classify them as past and future according as we have left them behind or not yet arrived at them. This view of the world has a notable bearing on the philosophy of materialism, as shown in the following quotation:

If you mistake the hybrid thing of which I am speaking for real time, you will come inevitably to the conclusion that everything in the universe is transient and rushing to destruction. In real time the exact contrary is the case. Everything which has established its existence remains in existence. A rose which has bloomed once blooms for ever. As for Man, he is not accorded distinctive treatment; he merely remains with the rest.

This is the basis of the new immortality. This immortality is not a condition upon which we enter suddenly at death, as not having been in it before. It is a condition which exists now, but which we have overlooked. It is quite in accordance with the beliefs of Theosophists that immortality should be thus regarded.

The mistakes made by physicists, according to Mr. Dunne (more fully explained in his Serial Universe) are largely due to their having confused the false time with the real, confused the abstraction with the reality from which it was abstracted. How many vexed problems can be cleared up by correcting this mistake is a matter too deep to go into here, but we understand that it has already profoundly impressed some competent scientific and philosophic thinkers.

One is glad to notice that Mr. Dunne complains of the absurdity of requiring people to prove the postulates which they have assumed for the purposes of an argument.

To demand that a writer on problems which are based upon the acceptance of space and time as elementary indefmables shall begin by denning either term, is to demand that he shall abandon these as terms, discover something more fundamental than either, and proceed to discuss a different problem.

This logical error is one of the most fertile sources of futile logomachy.

The first part of the book is devoted to "The two Nows," which is a way of naming the two sorts of time; one is a moving ever-changing now; the other is a fixed and unchanging now. Birth and death, says the author, are not episodes; they are states; they are there permanently in the real Now. We are three-dimensional beings with a four-dimensional outlook. We have at least two selves, one of which is the owner of the other. This is implied in the term "myself."

A good deal is said about the dream state. When we fall asleep, our senses cease to act, and our moving point of attention is no longer chained to its direct line; hence it becomes free to wander over the vast range of experiences, past, present, and future. But, not being accustomed to such a state of affairs, we stumble about and mix things up, so that events separated by lapses of time are seen together. If it be objected that this is a state of illusion, Mr. Dunne asks us wherein is this state more illusory than the waking state; and further reminds us that, in thinking of a dream, we are comparing a present experience with a mere memory — an unfair comparison; we should rather compare our memories of dreams with our memories of waking experience.

There is one place where the author says what will remind Theosophists of certain after-death states which are described as subjective or illusory. When liberated from the tyranny of the present moment, either by dream or in some other way, we can hold apparent communion with our loved ones. And, what seems best of all, these loved ones are far more agreeable than they were in life, for they respond to our every wish. But here comes the hitch: the reason they are so facile and complacent is that we have made them to order. And further, though we seem to be with our friend, yet our friend is not with us; he is enjoying a little paradise of his own. When we meet on earth, the attention of both parties is focussed on the same instant of pseudo-time, and there is a true meeting. But in this other state —

You may hear again the spoken words, you may receive and give the same caresses. But the attention of that other may not be there. In that case there is no meeting.

This may sound discouraging, but there is a remedy, a sure and safe one. It is the old medicine — escape from self.

To avoid or to escape from that, you must be willing to surrender some of your sovereignty. You must be prepared to build to please others. Where there is unselfish love there must be obviously the required measure of agreement. Then you will meet very fully that other whom you seek. You will encounter once again that difference in outlook and desire which makes that other other than you. You two will do things together. Your solo will cease and become part of a duet.

And elsewhere we read that "God is the escape from Self. . . . He is Love. But he is not a distributor of rewards for "virtues" and of punishments for "iniquities." "

But the author does not see why we should not reach these conclusions by way of mathematics; nor did Pythagoras. Perhaps it is a fault of our times to consider mathematics in a derogatory or a jocular sense.

We regard these books of Mr. Dunne's as part of a movement now going on, by which we are escaping from what might be called a one-plane view of the universe. The universe as conceived by science has been a picture correlative with the physical senses. But this is only a partial picture, a cross-section of the universe, as some might call it. It has been found insufficient to explain the facts of experience. Science has found it necessary to go beyond it; and we have now so much evidence of supernormal faculties that it is no longer possible to explain it away. We have to admit that, if our physical senses can become inactive, our mind may thereby be enabled to function in another way, to contact the universe through other channels, and thus to make for itself a new picture of the universe, a new form of objectivity. This, in Theosophical language, would be called planes of consciousness and planes of objectivity corresponding thereto. Mr. Dunne's method of approach is original and highly suggestive. He has put his finger on a common logical error regarding "time," which many must have felt without being able to analyse; he has shown, as others have done before him, how science has been giving a fictitious reality to abstractions.


1. The New Immortality, by J. W. Dunne. Faber and Faber, London, 1938. 3s. 6d. (return to text)

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