A&O – DUALITY notes





 The heaviest of burdens crushes us, we sink beneath it, it pins us to the ground. But in the love poetry of every age the woman longs to be weighed down by the man’s body. The heaviest of burdens is therefore simultaneously an image of life’s most intense fulfillment. The heavier the burden, the closer our lives come to the earth, the more real and truthful they become.

Conversely, the absolute absence of burden to be lighter than air, to soar into the heights, take leave of the earth and his earthly being, and become only half real, his movements as free as they are insignificant.

What, then, shall we choose? Weight or lightness?

Parmenides posed this very question in the fifth century before Christ. He seems to have seen the world divided into pairs of opposites: light/darkness, fineness/coarseness, warmth/cold, being/nonbeing. One half of the opposition he called positive (light, fineness, warmth, being), the other negative. We might find this division into positive and negative poles childishly simple except for one difficulty: which one is positive, heaviness or lightness?

Parmenides responded: lightness is positive, weight negative.

Was he correct or not? That is the question. The only certainty is: the weight/lightness opposition is the most mysterious, most ambiguous of all.”

(from The Unbearable Lightness of Being  By Milan Kundera , March 11, 1984 in The New Yorker.)


Oliver Sacks on DUALISM:  “There has always, seemingly, been a split between science and life, between the apparent poverty of scientific formulation and the manifest richness of phenomenal experience. This is the chasm which Goethe refers to in Faust, when he speaks of the grayness of theory as contrasted with the green and golden colors of life:   Grau, teurer Freund, ist alle Theorie, / Und grün des Lebens goldner Baum.

This chasm—which is smallest in physics, where we have spectacularly powerful theories of countless physical processes—is overwhelming in biology, in the study, above all, of mental processes and inner life, for these are, unlike physical existence, distinguished by extreme complexity, unpredictability, and novelty; by inner principles of autonomy, identity, and “will” (Spinoza and Leibniz speak here of conatus); and by a continuous becoming, evolution, and development.

The magnitude of this discrepancy, as well as our almost irresistible desire to see ourselves as being  somehow above nature, above the body, [is a bias that…] has generated doctrines of dualism from Plato on—doctrines clearest of all, perhaps, in Descartes, in his separation of two “essences” (res extensa and res cogitans) and in his conception of a quasi-mystical meeting point, an “organ of liaison,” between the two (for him, the pineal).”   from Oliver Sacks (1990), “Neurology and the Soul” in NY Rev Books, 22 Nov 1990: https://www.nybooks.com/articles/1990/11/22/neurology-and-the-soul/ may be necessary to vopy/paste URL into browser)


now look in on A&O notes on “ENANTIODROMIA”



“Dualism is,” as Douglas Hofstadter put it, “the conceptual division of the world into categories … human perception is by nature a dualistic phenomenon—which makes the quest for enlightenment an uphill struggle, to say the least.” (in (1979) Gödel, Escher, Bach: an Eternal Golden Braid ,Chapter 9: “Mumon and Gödel”). 

We often think first about the principle of duality and seize on some obvious generalities (dark/light, yin/yang, spirit/body), but find quickly that there is a dualism implicit (or latent) at every successive level of organization. This can further reinforce our view that it is a fundamental property of reality that obtains everywhere all the time.

So, our most comfortable senses of duality are large scale: mind and body, reductionism and holism, analysis and synthesis, disintegration and integration [detectable in many creation myths where there is a transformation of energy or information as, for example, from chaos to order (logos; “In the beginning…”).  Comfortable, but we can move easily out of this comfort zone into one of adventure and discovery: Nothing is immune from our scrutiny, which is by biologcal necessity a matter of assembling separate elements.  Everything seem composed of subunits and it is presumed by cognitive habit to be true as deeply as we can look.  (This is why we can be startled, even unsettled by the quantum belief that at its deepest there is no “substance,” ony a coud of probabilities).  

A Romantc view of the the pervasive interlocking and co-constituting convergences in nature: Percy Bysshe Shelley’s,  Love’s Philosophy 



The fountains mingle with the river

   And the rivers with the ocean,

The winds of heaven mix for ever

   With a sweet emotion;

Nothing in the world is single;

   All things by a law divine

In one spirit meet and mingle.

   Why not I with thine?—


See the mountains kiss high heaven

   And the waves clasp one another;

No sister-flower would be forgiven

   If it disdained its brother;

And the sunlight clasps the earth

   And the moonbeams kiss the sea:

What is all this sweet work worth

   If thou kiss not me?



SHELLEY further exercises his view of duality in an essay he began in 1821 but left unfinished,  A Defence of Poetry:   (all boldface added; [brackets added to facilitate CONNECTIONS])


CONSIDER how the balancing of real or apparent alternatives that DUALISM speaks to can manifest in ARTISTIC LICENSE

“According to one mode of regarding those two classes of mental action, which are called reason and imagination, [in A&O, reason and feeling are often referred to as sapience and sentience] the former may be considered as mind contemplating the relations borne by one thought to another, however produced, and the latter, as mind acting upon those thoughts so as to color them with its own light, and composing from them, as from elements, other thoughts, each containing within itself the principle of its own integrity. The one is the το ποιειν, or the principle of synthesis, and has for its objects those forms which are common to universal nature and existence itself; the other is the το λογιςειν, or principle of analysis, and its action regards the relations of things simply as relations; considering thoughts, not in their integral unity, but as the algebraical representations which conduct to certain general results. Reason is the enumeration of qualities already known; imagination is the perception of the value of those qualities, both separately and as a whole. Reason respects the differences, and imagination the similitudes of things. Reason is to imagination as the instrument to the agent, as the body to the spirit, as the shadow to the substance.”


Kant’s famus aphorism resonates with Pascal’s: “The heart has reasons of which reason knows not”

 (or: “Perception without conception is blind, while conception without perception is empty.” (Kant CPR cited by Wechsler 1978:2)   [recalls “Science without religion is lame, religion without science is blind.” (Albert Einstein  in Science, Philosophy and Religion: a Symposium (1941) ch. 13)








all figures from Greenberg, N.  (2006).  The Natural History of Intuition.  Invited plenary lecture for the symposium, “Exploring the Science of Intuition and Consciousness” sponsored by the Institute of Noetic Sciences and Bastyr University.  SLIDES 

DUALITY is hard to grasp whenever one goes beyond a particular duality in mind. In The Stanford Encylopedia of Philosophy the starting point is the MIND-BODY dualism, but quickly begins to explicate a diversity of  “forms” and ways of thinking about them. 

There is nothing that does not have at some level an implicit or latent opposite and there are countless examples of these “pairs” necessarily interacting to be maniest in any way meaningful to us.   So, nothing is immune from scrutiny, even duality itself (contrasted with monism): Natalie M. Paquett (Institute for Advanced Study) wrote The Unity of Dualities where she points out and explains that many profound dualities are Fourier transforms.  Read on: https://www.ias.edu/ideas/unity-dualities 

Consider at this point the essence of the “essential tension,” involving themes of simultaneous repulsion & attraction and offered by Thomas Kuhn to characterize innovation and tradition (visit the A&O notes on “essential tension.“)   




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