The Four Dimensions
Many philosophers, if not all, have written on the dichotomy of human experience:
materialism vs. spirituality; or physical (body) vs. non-physical (mind/soul) - Plato (427-347 BC)
talked about the form (body) and the idea (soul) of horses; Medieval philosophers contrasted the
truths in holy scriptures with science1 speaking of the created,
tangible world and the intangible
world of spirits; Descartes (1596- 1650) wrote on the duality of mind and body, later known as the
Cartesian duality, named after him; Spinoza (1632-1677) spoke of the two manifestations of the one
God, one material and one spiritual; Leibniz (1646-1716) wrote in the Monadology about the material
world being made of non-physical entities called monads; Berkeley (1685-1753), Kant (1724-1804),
and Hegel (1770-) all wrote about the spiritual world being the real world, while the sensual world
we experience as being a misperception.
The human experience on an intra-personal, psychological level, however, is better
understood through expanding this duality into four dimensions: spiritual (spirit), intellectual
(mind), emotional (heart), and physical (body).2
The physical dimension includes exercise, fitness, food, warmth, sports, yoga, sex,
shopping, chores, sleeping, hygiene, beauty, and fashion. When this dimension is superimposed on
Maslow's hierarchy of needs, we find that this is the most basic dimension; that if absent, no other dimension can be nurtured or developed.
The Emotional dimension includes kindness, passion, compassion, love, friendship,
and so on. It is reflected in what scientists call emotional intelligence (EQ), and is more visible
among females, not because males are not as emotional by design (as is commonly believed), but
because it is more repressed in males. From ancient times, it was necessary for the survival of a
tribe to have its protectors (the stronger gender) hide and suppress their emotions so as to
discourage enemies from attacking. This suppression starts at an early age; like when the little,
bruised boy in tears is told to "stop crying like a girl." And while we can't wait for the world
to remedy this problem, it would be prudent for males to further explore this dimension that has
enabled women, on average, to lead longer and healthier lives with less stress, less back pains,
and less illnesses within the same age group.3
The intellectual dimension refers to logic, science, knowledge, and rationality; the one you are using at the moment to decipher these words made up of twenty-six coded alphabets, and transform them into meanings that can be used by all four dimensions. The intellect is what truly distinguishes us from all other creatures - our ability to think in terms of cause and effect; our ability to ask how and why, and come up with satisfactory answers.
The spiritual dimension includes prayer, fasting, music, and meditation. Spirituality is the human connection with the immaterial, intangible existence, a connection best attained in isolated solitude (in order to limit all unwanted, interfering sensory receptions). It is the ability to step outside the body and experience the world without material boundaries.
III - The Pursuit of Happiness
Most people don't equally attend to all of their four dimensions. You might meet someone as intellectually deep as Einstein or Chomsky, yet they appear to be physically untidy and unhealthy. Or you could meet a spiritual leader who stays fit and looks fit, yet seems to lack the ability to engage others on an intellectual or emotional level well enough.
Each of these four dimensions has a maximum potential which differs from one person to another. The more one puts into one dimension, the more it is developed and the more one progresses in the human experience, becoming wiser and more mature.
As for which dimension they unconsciously focus on or neglect, it greatly depends on external influences - cultural norms, societal expectations, structural causes (e.g. geography, economic conditions), and more directly the people they grew up with. And just as they are unconsciously bent towards some dimensions over others; unaware of the imbalance, they are consequently unaware of the source of their occasional-to-frequent sadness, boredom, and aimlessness.
When these episodes of sadness, boredom, and aimlessness become more frequent, even chronic, people start making dangerous conclusions about life being somehow designed to be miserable, and how happiness is a fleeting rarity more suitable for children and the simple-minded; that ignorance is bliss.
None of this is true. We know it's not true because we can clearly see that some people are more miserable than others. This is the first clue! Since not all people are equally miserable, then we know that there is a spectrum of misery, with one end representing the most miserable and the other the least. The second clue is the law of opposites: the very fact that we are aware of concepts like sadness, boredom, and aimlessness necessarily means that their opposites not only must exist, but have also been previously experienced.
Now that we know that life is not designed to be boring, meaningless, or unhappy, all we have to do is locate the faucet of that unhappiness and turn it off.
Many believe that the faucet has been finally identified: the source of unhappiness is the imbalance in
the four dimensions. The proof is in the following examples of people who nurtured just one dimension while
severely neglecting the other three:
IV - All Eggs in One Basket
1 - Excessively Physical
This is when a person eats super healthy, reads all food labels meticulously, calculates their intake of calories, sugar, fat, proteins, minerals, and so on. They spend many more hours in front of the mirror every day, beautifying themselves with cosmetics and toiletries. They have regular massage sessions and skin care regiments that take hours of their day. They never miss a work out session to keep their bodies perfectly toned. They use whitening cream if their skin is too dark, lie in tanning beds if their skin is too light, and of course they will have plastic surgery to meet perfection as defined by beauty magazines, exceeding photo-shopped models in rivalry.
And since their lifestyle revolves around perfecting the physical dimension, they also spend long hours shopping and reading fashion magazines to check the latest innovations for beauty and health.
Of course, it becomes very difficult for them to invest in making friends or maintaining relationships, primarily because their physical and hygiene standards are too time-consuming and too high for almost everyone else. Eventually, they will suffer the most when their investment in the physical dimension begins to plummet with age; as they begin to get wrinkles and hair in all the wrong places like the rest of us do. But because they are too deep into the physical, instead of turning to their other dimensions which they had neglected for so long, they take even more extreme measures to keep their physical appearance top-notch for as long as it is possible, even if it meant spending hundreds of thousands of dollars on more cover-ups and surgeries over the course of time. Nevertheless, they continue to age and become weaker and less attractive, only adding to their misery as they see everything they have invested in irrevocably coming down in shambles.
2 - Excessively Emotional
This is when a person lives life based on (and through) emotions and emotional dependence; reacting to words, images and sounds solely through emotional direction, losing grasp on themselves and life. People like that tend to get pleased about the minutest of things, not that that is a bad thing, but it also comes with the antithesis of getting flustered in reaction to things just as insignificant.
These polarities and extreme immersions in emotion leave people susceptible to extreme results;
loving to the point of self-neglect,
or hating to the point of harming others. Thus, by over-investing in human relationships
with nothing to offer but an emotional dimension, one becomes at high risk of losing
the very friendships and relationships that one had invested in for so long.
The unhappiness caused by these failures will very likely lead that person to further divest in the other three dimensions - they overeat or lose their appetite, they seek drugs (legal and/or illegal ones), they suffer fits of rage and fatigue, they act irrationally (without calculating the consequences of their actions), and they become more afraid and unstable; all of which feed into one another in an upward vicious cycle.
3 - Excessively Intellectual
This is when a person locks himself into the parameters of logic and rationality,
thinking that everything can be understood through them, including the nature of deep
reality and objective truth, but of course to no avail. No matter how many paradoxes obstruct
their path, they have already made up their minds that the answers cannot possibly
exist in any other form of intelligence but theirs, ignoring the fact that rationality is a product
of the senses, which are limited by design; leading to a worldview necessarily
limited by the human goggles of perception.
So proud of their intellectual dimension, their bodies become nothing more than vessels to transport their brains. They avoid social gatherings that temporarily require less mind and more emotion - gatherings where people talk about life, share their ironic, weird, sad, joyful, and hilarious experiences, listen to music and dance to it, go to cinemas and cry and laugh with hundreds of others.
To this genius, most people appear to be silly and not worthy of his time. His unintentional arrogance becomes more apparent in the eyes of the "silly" people, who in turn avoid socializing with him. He could become so focused and diligent on research and knowledge that he forgets to live, even despises life.
And as time passes by, and hundreds of books are published, he ends up looking around, realizing that: he has no true friends, he is physically unfit and out of shape, and has a general disinterest in anything that is above and beyond his smart arguments. So what does he do? He dives back into research and writing, because it's the only way that appears familiar and safe, the only excuse he has to justify his loneliness.
4 - Excessively Spiritual
This is when a person gets too deep into the spiritual realm, approaching priesthood. They ignore their physical needs, so they become weak, unattractive, unhealthy, out of shape, and their abstinence from sexual norms leads many of them to sexual abnormality. They ignore their intellectual needs, so they become thoughtless cattle indulging in prayer and fasting, without ever really understanding why they pray and fast, and they dismiss and disrespect those who do understand.
Moreover, they ignore their emotional intelligence, so that although they are very spiritual,
they are incapable of empathy. They don't think it necessary to help others in need,
feed the poor, care for the orphans, let alone raise a family of their own - to have
a husband or wife and children to love and share their lives with. Their marriage,
if they had one, as well as all their relations with other people become nothing more than a
façade to misguide others into their world of spiritual wisdom.
Altogether, they become a burden on the productive society.
On the surface, they exalt themselves from the three other non-spiritual dimensions and their pleasures. But secretly they
suffer the absence of those dimensions.
And so as to not lose face in front of others by getting exposed, they can only feel better by whirling deeper
into the spiritual world, until they reach a certain depth where they begin to border on insanity.
It is really hard to say with certainty that any human being can reach perfect equanimity where each of the four
dimensions is given exactly 25% of their time and effort to nurture and develop.
Besides, even if that perfect balance was possible, there are very powerful external factors affecting our
choices as to which dimension we focus on. It's not easy, for example, to develop the mind when the body has no adequate security and nutrition, like in cases of war and famine. Similarly, we can't be surprised if a massacre survivor devotes 100% of herself on her emotions for many months, refusing to eat, drink, sleep, or even think. But aside from such chronic external influences, we can all remember being in temporary situations where we had to lock our doors and do math problems for several hours in preparation for an examination, or where we had lost our tempers and unleashed emotional bombs onto people around us.
Hence, no one should be under the false impression that achieving the balance is
a one time fix. Rather, the goal is that, while aware, we attempt to reach that balance,
where all four dimensions get their equal share of continually progressing attention and development, and try to maintain that balance for as long as we can.
Just like riding a bike, when the road bends into a slope, we tilt ourselves and our bicycles in the direction that maintains a smooth, balanced ride. Similarly, when the curves of an event push us towards one dimension, we should try as best as we can to tilt ourselves towards the other three dimensions to regain and maintain the balance.
These four dimensions are actually so interconnected with one another that it is really difficult to experience just one separately. We experience most events with all four, but with varying degrees at varying moments. Here is an example:
Imagine stepping out of a relaxing, steamy hot shower, having washed off the long, tiring day, wrapping yourself with a warm fuzzy towel and throwing on some soft, light, cotton clothes. Entering the warm, cozy glow night lights of your living room, with a cool breeze of air caressing your skin, as you ease yourself into a big, comfortable sofa. As you smile inwardly in appreciation of the serenity of the evening, you open your eyes to find a cup of hot tea set on the table, across from which sits your partner.
You close your eyes again when you swallow the first sip.
And as it runs down your chest, you're feeling something you can't describe
with words. Is this feeling caused by the tea's heat that splashes throughout
your chest? Is it the tea's aroma? It doesn't matter any more. What matters
is the experience, which gets emboldened when the silence is broken by the crisp sound of music,
Hallucinations by "In the Nursery," coming out of the stereo system. More relaxed, you sink into your seat as you take another sip. Your partner is now sitting beside you and leaning against you, both basked in serenity.
A few minutes later the door opens, and in comes your best of friends and family, all smiling and roaring, you can't help but smile at their sight. Then the sound of the ripping of paper bags and aluminum foils ensues as everyone begins to devour big take-away containers from your favorite restaurant. You sit together and eat and laugh. Then after dessert and refreshments, and after the living room had calmed down once again, the topic gradually turns philosophical as a friend mentions a video they saw on an educational channel about the Higgs-Boson theory. Eventually everyone sitting there gets their chance to share their opinion on the subject, turning the session into a brainstorm; an intellectual feast.
The evening winds down to an end as people start yawning and others look at their watches. They get up, shake hands and hug one another, making last comments and jokes before they leave you and your partner... to have a very good night.
Notice in the example how all four dimensions intermingled with one another in a way one can
only separate in theory, as has been done in this essay. Nevertheless, if you take out one of
the four dimensions from the example above, you'll quickly feel that something was missing.
True, lasting happiness can only be attained through the balance of the four.
Whenever you feel that you don't have time for one of the four dimensions, you need to stop and think why you do not have time for it! What are the obstacles that are preventing you from approaching that balance?
You may have to reassess your priorities. If your work is too demanding, perhaps you need to consider changing jobs. If you're too busy with family members that you have no alone time to be creative, take a vacation or go spend time with a single loner friend - more quiet for you and more liveliness for your friend. If you're spending too much time at a temple (either actual or mental), get up and go meet with friends (even those you don't consider to be close enough) and chat with them over food, get involved in an activity together, maybe go for a swim or climb a mountain; get to know them better. If you're spending too much time on your physical fulfillment, sit down and read a book, or reconnect with some old brainy friend you haven't been in touch with for a long time, perhaps some part of her lifestyle will get imprinted into yours, and vice versa.
And if you're spending too many hours online, then just log off more often and get out of your room,
take a walk on a road you haven't been on before, and cast your eyes at the trees and the sky for a few minutes.
Whenever you feel unhappy or bored, that's your body telling you that at least one of your dimensions has been ignored for too long. Seek it, fulfill it, and you'll feel right again; right as rain.
- Alfarabi, Avicenna, Avempace, Ibn Tufayl, Averroes, Maimonides, Albo, Abravanel, Aquinas, and many others. For a list of the greats and their achievements, go to Islamic Golden Age.
- The concept of the four dimensions has been mentioned in several works, among them: Return to the Sacred: Pathways to Spiritual Awakening, (2009), by Jonathan H. Ellerby, Ph.D. It is also an integral part of the training methodology at Mr. Bassam Salah's Socrates Training Center, based in Amman - Jordan.
- It's true that women "are about as likely to have heart diseases [the number one cause of death] as men,"
but it is also true that "women tend to have heart attacks later in life, when they often have other
diseases (such as arthritis or diabetes)"... 99.5% of women with heart diseases are above the age of 65.
sources: The Heart Foundation
Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center
Personal Note: Tamara Faouri, Fatema Abulaila, and Bassam Salah, thank you so much for your invaluable help in putting this essay together.