Juliet always falls in love with Romeo, always marries him, and always dies with him. A play with any other outcome cannot rightly be called Romeo and Juliet. We, the audience, witness a predetermined progression and end. We enjoy the lovers’ affections, sympathize with their trials, but are never surprised by their tragic endings. Like omniscient gods, we witness all four dimensions, aware of the long body of the play in every moment of its unfolding.
How would we experience our own lives from the point of view of an all-knowing audience? Ordinarily, we are confined to the present: past and future are frequently imagined, but never objectively observed. Peter Ouspensky was determined to do just that. After reviewing what others had written about the fourth dimension (as shared in his book A New Model of the Universe), he realized that philosophical exploration was inadequate. “We must find a means for a projective representation of [the fourth dimension, time] in three-dimensional space,” he remarked.
Theater is such a projection. A group of characters with predetermined relationships act before an audience ever aware of the fourth dimension. The actors act as mortals; the audience witness as gods. We take the characters seriously even though we know they aren’t real. A well-performed Juliet brings us to sigh, weep, and laugh, despite our knowing her fate and that the actress we see isn’t really Juliet. When the play ends, we lament Juliet’s death but applaud the actress that played her. We take both perspectives seriously, and are happy to have tasted a four-dimensional experience on a three-dimensional stage.
“We must find the fourth dimension in a purely experimental way,” concluded Ouspensky. In this spirit, let us conduct an experiment: take the remaining part of today as a scripted play — from the moment you finish reading this post. Your rising from your chair is scripted. So is your bumping against the foot of the table on your way to the kitchen. Your brewing a cup of coffee is also scripted, as is spilling some of it on your shirt, answering a call from your colleague, getting upset by her complaints, writing an email to your boss, etc. For two hours (the approximate duration of Romeo and Juliet), live as if the minutest detail of your day is predetermined, and as if you are its omniscient audience. Remember: the audience doesn’t change the play, nor should an observer change what it observes.
In which ways would you be different if you were able to maintain such an impartial observer?