We often experience the world as a struggle between competing opposites: conservative vs liberal, objective vs subjective, male vs female, right brain vs left brain, the inner life vs the outer life, the active vs the passive, and so on. In the study and practise of Tai Chi I have observed a dynamic tension between opposing forces – advance and withdraw, rise and sink. After many years of diligent practise, you can master the rise without losing the sink or you can withdraw but remain a coiled spring prepared for the advance. Mastering integration ignites explosive power (Tai Chi is a martial art). It’s not a question of rise or sink, advance or retreat; it’s more a case of rise and sink happening together so fast as to achieve integration. The interaction of opposites could best be described as a marriage, not a binary choice or a conflict but integration.
Fundamentalists invariably identify with one pole or another creating an adversarial relationship between opposites.
From my office window I survey a pleasant scene of forested hills, early-spring pastures slowly turning green, and below them, a vast expanse of wetland where ducks and geese are returning from their winter refuge. Soon our farm pond will come alive with tiny goslings and ducklings eagerly following their mothers. It’s a scene of perfect harmony which could not exist without a balance and reconciliation of opposites – death and decay vs renewal and rebirth. Neither should prevail over the other. Both work together for good and what we observe with pleasure is the outcome of integration. Likewise, the most beautiful paintings are a combination of light and dark.
In the latter part of my book, I identify postmodernism as a fundamentalist belief system, one which has become the prevailing orthodoxy of our time. One of the doctrines of this new religion is that there is no such thing as objective reality. This sets the philosophy on a collision course with Enlightenment principles – a worldview which asserts that there is an objective reality discoverable through reason and the scientific method. Enlightenment principles are summarily dismissed (by the extremists) as the product of a white male patriarchy, itself overcome with bias. Here we see the battleground of the subjective (postmodernism) vs the objective (rationality). How can they be reconciled?
I didn’t get too far in my expose of postmodernism before I realized, yes, I am a postmodernist myself; I only reject the counterfeit version, used wrongly for political purposes, to foster totalitarianism, censorship and societal subordination to a global technocracy. Nevertheless, we do not understand the world through reason alone and in this sense, I am a postmodernist. We have a left brain which is rational and a right brain which is artistic – the realm of the poet, the mystic, the musician and the painter. A whole person must function with both hemispheres without one dominating the other.
In the early part of my book, I identify personal experience (subjective) as the only thing we can know for sure and the inner journey as an avenue to certainty (very postmodern). Finding truth in the outer world is difficult because it’s a funhouse ‘s “hall of mirrors.” It’s hard to tell what is real and what is illusion. Observing the outer world we are confused and unsure and thus vulnerable to the Wizard’s counterfeit offer of comforting certitude.
Here’s where I think the counterfeit version of postmodernism gets it wrong. I refer to a teaching story about a village of blind people trying to figure out what an elephant is. One holds the tail and says it’s a snake. Another holds the leg and says it’s a pillar, another holds the trunk and says it’s a hollow tube; but no one has the vantage point to see the whole elephant even with the use of scientific instruments. The extremists say there is no elephant. I say there is one but difficult to discover, difficult but not impossible. If there was no elephant, then nothing would be objective and therefore nothing in the outer world could be described as true or false. If nothing is true then science has no place, there would be no such thing as a lie and research would be pointless ( no truth to be found).
You can have your own subjective insights without imposing them on others or using them to ignore verifiable facts or lobbying to have your subjective perceptions enshrined in law. All these things the faux postmodernists attempt. Subjective and objective must walk hand in hand, recognizing their respective spheres of influence. A police officer might follow a hunch or rely on intuition (subjective) to solve a murder but a conviction can only be upheld by evidence gathered and proven in court. Many scientific breakthroughs began as dreams or flashes of insight but these must also be subjected to the rigours of the scientific method.
The great mathematician Ramanujan said that the Hindu goddess Namagiri would appear in his dreams, delivering mathematical insights, which he would write down when he awoke. He described one of them as follows:
While asleep, I had an unusual experience. There was a red screen formed by flowing blood, as it were. I was observing it. Suddenly a hand began to write on the screen. I became all attention. That hand wrote a number of elliptic integrals. They stuck to my mind. As soon as I woke up, I committed them to writing.”
The Cambridge University mathematician Godfrey H. Hardy, who worked with Ramanujan, said that if mathematicians were rated on the basis of pure talent on a scale from 0 to 100, he himself would be worth 25, J.E. Littlewood 30, David Hilbert 80, and Srinivasa Ramanujan 100.
When Ramanujan first arrived at Cambridge he insisted that his mathematical insights just came to him or were dictated by God (subjective) but professor Hardy, recognizing his genius, worked with him to provide objective verification based on principles acceptable to the scientific community. This was a very fruitful partnership. The word genius comes from the Latin word of the same name, meaning, “guardian deity or spirit which watches over each person from birth” or “innate ability.”
We become much more effective as a result of integration and the world is a more peaceful place without the either/or mindset of fundamentalism.
The amazing life of Ramanujan was made into a feature film which I highly recommend (see Recommended Viewing section for movie trailer).
(C) Adrian Charles Smith 2020
3 thoughts on “Integrating Opposites”
I am an AC grad, 1966. I share your view of the Wizard. We gave away our power to him. I was his property from 1960-1973. I greatly appreciate your book concerning fundamentalism. A true prison.
Thanks so much for commenting on my book! Glad you enjoyed it. My e mail is email@example.com if you want to contact me again. It has been quite a journey for people like us but I think we are a great deal wiser for it. All the best.
Yes, wiser with a few scars. Quite a journey, introduced to me by my unsuspecting and innocent dad. A good person, but naive. I’m now old and happy, but never content. Always curious and uncertain about all important questions. May never know the answers, but enjoy the search.