WORD – Enantiodromia





In the antechamber of the Shrine of Apollo at Delphi, there is an injunction to

know thyself


on the opposite wall is the motto,

nothing in excess


Excess seems to be what drives ENANTIODROMIA … In philosophy going back to pre-Socratics, and famously applied by Carl Jung’s use of the term speaking largely to dysfunction: it refers to things felt strongly enough gave rise to their opposites (adapted by Jung to refer to the unconscious acting against the wishes of the conscious mind) but amongst its various uses, the one I really like is the Herclitian sense, thinking of it as the process whereby one seeks out an opposite and tries to internalize it into a coherent whole (deeper meaning of “opposites attract”… or maybe try to return to each other ] [but perhaps this “seeking out” is more like exploring the other parts of what has always been a whole, just imperfectly known: finding the overlapping threads of which a continuum is created. Imagine a Möbius twist, in this cord of consciousness, this ribbon like a highway passing through all sorts of terrain: fear, loneliness, desire…]

A commitment to one view is aggressively, even compulsively, defended and enlarged … accumulating great stores of confirmatory or corroborating information even if highly biased in its selection.  An alternative … actually an opposite builds up in deep psychic parallel.

If you shut up truth and bury it under the ground, it will but grow, and gather to itself such explosive power that the day it bursts through it will blow up everything in its way. (As quoted in Dreyfus : His Life and Letters‎ (1937) edited by Pierre Dreyfus, p. 175)


In the Phaedo, Plato stated that “Everything arises in this way, opposites from their opposites.” (sect. 71a).[2]   

So, is the bedrock bias of DUALISM attributable to phenomenal experience of the ourselves and the world?

DUALISM.  Oliver Sacks:  “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)


In the Prajnaparamita-sutra, Nagarjuna developed his premise of relativity: that all things exist only by virtue of their opposites, and that all things are only relative and thus without essence, in other words, empty.” (Audrey Yoshiko Seo   “Enso: Zen Circles of Enlightenment”  2007:5)  from A&O notes on “ENANTIODROMIA”



Recalls ART expressed as a spontaneous overflow of emotion (Wordsworth on poetry in the “Preface to the Lyrical Ballads)

As a law of nature, we could think about LOGOS and CHAOS …

But also a pervasive human bias: that EVERY THING HAS WITHIN IT THE SEED OF ITS OWN NEGATION

(is all this pairing a simple projection of gravity mandated “up, down”?? into which we are born?  Would a creature born in a state without gravity have a different “mind set”)

Pairing is pervasive in nature and thought:  

  • “Parts and wholes evolve in consequence of their relationship, and the relationship itself evolves. These are the properties of things that we call dialectical: that one thing cannot exist without the other, that one acquires its properties from its relation to the other, that the properties of both evolve as a consequence of their interpenetration.” (Levins and Lewontin 1985:3)​​​​​​​ (The epigraph from 2016-2017 A&O website)
  • Yin-Yang (“describing how seemingly opposite or contrary forces may actually be complementary, interconnected, and interdependent in the natural world, and how they may give rise to each other as they interrelate to one another.”[1]) Originates from T’ai Chi (“undifferentiated absolute and infinite potential, the oneness before duality”)
  • Sentience (capacity for “subjective feeling and perception”) and sapience (capacity for thinking and acting  using knowledgeexperienceunderstandingcommon sense and insight.”[1])  emotion and affect-thought and cogitation. 
  • The “Essential Tension” of Thomas Kuhn was conceived to charactarise scientific research in terms of tradition being preserved in the course of  “normal science” and the tradition-shattering and innovation seen in “scientific revolutions.”[i]  The reconciling of tradition and innovation can now be compared to the perpetual change of development in which “disintegration and renewal” (Berman)[ii] proceed simultaneously.
  • now represents the …


But the best contrasts are paradoxical[i]


[i] The opposite of a correct statement is a false statement. But the opposite of a profound truth may well be another profound truth.  Unsourced but quoted in Max Delbrück, Mind from Matter: An Essay on Evolutionary Epistemology, (1986) p. 167. It is the hallmark of any deep truth that its negation is also a deep truth https://en.wikiquote.org/wiki/Niels_Bohr )

BUT: Contraria Sunt Complementa Opposites are complementary.  (Motto Bohr chose for his coat of arms, when granted the Danish Order of the Elephant in 1947. https://en.wikiquote.org/wiki/Niels_Bohr ) [enantiomorphia? Jung?]

“Niels Bohr is quoted as saying, “There are the trivial truths and the great truths. The opposite of a trivial truth is plainly false. The opposite of a great truth is also true” (Niels Bohr in: Waelder, 1963, p. 18, found online in Norm Holland’s The I (at http://www.clas.ufl.edu/users/nnh/thei-pt4.htm)   By William Benzon & reported to HBE-L, January 17, 1998). Also, “Bohr was not particularly enthusiastic about being clear. He thought it was overrated. He is said to have taught his students that clarity and truth tend to crowd each other out, and that whereas a trivial truth is a proposition whose negation is false, a profound truth is a proposition whose negation is also true. And he seems to have been revered, for just such shenanigans, as some kind of sage.” [i]




Notes (Wikipedia etc):

(Greek: enantios, opposite + dromos, running course) is a principle introduced by psychiatrist Carl Jung that the superabundance of any force inevitably produces its opposite. It is equivalent to the principle of equilibrium in the natural world, in that any extreme is opposed by the system in order to restore balance.

Though “enantiodromia” was coined by Jung, it is implied in the writings of Heraclitus. In fr. 126, for example, Heraclitus says “cold things warm, warm things cool, wet things dry and parched things get wet.”[1] It also seems implicit in other of his sayings, like “war is father of all, king of all” (fr. 53), “they do not know that the differing/opposed thing agrees with itself; harmony is reflexive (palintropos, used of a compound bow, or “in reflexive tension”), like the bow and the lyre” (fr. 51). In these passages and others the idea of the coincidence of opposites is clearly articulated in Heraclitus’ characteristic riddling style, as well as the dynamic motion back and forth between the two, generated especially by opposition and conflict.

Later Plato in the Phaedo will articulate the principle clearly: “Everything arises in this way, opposites from their opposites.” (sect. 71a).[2]

Jung used the term particularly to refer to the unconscious acting against the wishes of the conscious mind. (Aspects of the Masculine, chapter 7, paragraph 294).

Enantiodromia. Literally, “running counter to,” referring to the emergence of the unconscious opposite in the course of time. This characteristic phenomenon practically always occurs when an extreme, one-sided tendency dominates conscious life; in time an equally powerful counterposition is built up, which first inhibits the conscious performance and subsequently breaks through the conscious control. (“Definitions,” ibid., par. 709)

Enantiodromia is typically experienced in conjunction with symptoms associated with acute neurosis, and often foreshadows a rebirth of the personality.

The grand plan on which the unconscious life of the psyche is constructed is so inaccessible to our understanding that we can never know what evil may not be necessary in order to produce good by enantiodromia, and what good may very possibly lead to evil. (“The Phenomenology of the Spirit in Fairytales”, Collected Works 9i, par. 397)

http://www.ljhammond.com/phlit/2002-03.htm : “When Miguel Serrano visited Jung in 1961, Jung told him, “I once knew an old lady who was very aristocratic and noble, and who conducted her life according to the most exquisite ideas of refinement; but at night she would dream about drunkenness, and in those dreams she herself would become hopelessly intoxicated.”8 In other words, the woman’s unconscious attitude compensated for her exaggerated conscious attitude. This is one of Jung’s central ideas: the idea of compensation. Jung believed that any exaggeration, any one-sidedness in one’s conscious attitude would beget an unconscious reaction.

If we listen to our unconscious, it will help us to avoid exaggeration, it will help us to find our center, our true self. “One must be what one is,” said Jung, “one must discover one’s own individuality, that center of personality, which is equidistant between the conscious and the unconscious; we must aim for that ideal point towards which nature appears to be directing us.”9

Heraclitus believed that one of the fundamental laws of nature was the law of enantiodromia, running toward the opposite. According to the law of enantiodromia, things tend to move toward an extreme, then a reaction sets in, a counter-movement. Jung’s idea of compensation is related to Heraclitus’ idea of enantiodromia, and Jung often refers to Heraclitus.

Nicholas of Cusa (sometimes referred to as Nicolaus Cusanus), 1401-1464, also stressed the importance of opposites. “The Deity appears in Nicholas of Cusa’s writings as coincidentia oppositorum, the coincidence of opposites. In this higher unity, contradiction is overcome: in the infinite all different factors coincide…. Nicholas employs mathematical ideas to make this understandable: for example, a straight line and the circumference of a circle tend more and more to coincide as the radius of the circle is continually increased.”10 Jung was well aware of Cusanus’ philosophy; indeed, one of Jung’s favorite phrases is coincidentia oppositorum. Jung regarded the self as a coincidentia oppositorum, a blend of conscious and unconscious.

In Hegel’s philosophy, opposites played an important role. Hegel used the term “dialectic,” which originally meant discussion, argument, reasoning, the clash of opposing views. In Hegel’s view, thesis evokes antithesis, and the conflict is resolved in a synthesis. Hegel found this pattern not only in the process of reasoning, but also in the history of philosophy. For example, Parmenides set forth the thesis that Being is static and unchanging, then Heraclitus set forth the antithesis that everything is continually changing (“you can’t step into the same river twice”), then Democritus resolved this conflict in a higher synthesis: the basic elements, which he called “atoms,” are unchanging, but their various combinations produce constant change.

Hegel’s dialectic is not only a law of reasoning and thinking, but also a general law of nature: “General experience,” said Hegel, “shows us the extreme of one state or action suddenly shifting into its opposite…. Everyone knows how the extremes of pain and pleasure pass into each other: the heart overflowing with joy seeks relief in tears, and the deepest melancholy will at times betray its presence by a smile.”11

Marx was influenced by Hegel and formulated a so-called “dialectical materialism.” Marx argued that capitalism would be carried to an extreme by its own inner logic, would destroy itself, and would be replaced by the dictatorship of the proletariat.

In Freud’s thought, opposites played an important role. Freud believed that all life was a contest between the life-instinct and the death-instinct. When one instinct reached an extreme, a reaction set in. “It is as though the life of the organism moved with a vacillating rhythm,” Freud wrote. “One group of instincts rushes forward so as to reach the final aim of life as swiftly as possible; but when a particular stage in the advance has been reached, the other group jerks back to a certain point to make a fresh start and so prolong the journey.”12

According to my own theory of history, a renaissance age is an age in which the life-instinct is predominant, and a decadent age is an age in which the death-instinct is predominant. When decadence (the death-instinct) reaches an extreme, it turns into its opposite, renaissance (the life-instinct). Thus, in my theory of history, Heraclitus’ old idea of enantiodromia (running toward the opposite) is alive and well.

“If enantiodromia is a basic law of nature, why is it only found in Western philosophy?” In fact, the Chinese were familiar with enantiodromia; according to Jung, the Chinese believed that “yang at its highest point changes into yin, and positive into negative.”13

One often encounters enantiodromia in the field of aesthetics — in the study of literature, visual art, etc. Romantics like Wordsworth opposed neo-classics like Pope, Symbolists like Mallarmé opposed realists like Zola, etc. Artistic taste, critical taste, oscillates back and forth. “The critics of each generation,” said Proust, “confine themselves to maintaining the direct opposite of the truths admitted by their predecessors.”14


[i]In his analysis of “the essential tension between tradition and innovation” Thomas S. Kuhn focused on the apparent paradox that, on the one hand, normal research is a highly convergent activity based upon a settled consensus, but, on the other hand, the ultimate effect of this tradition-bound work has invariably been to change the tradition. Kuhn argued that, on the one hand, without the possibility of divergent thought, fundamental innovation would be precluded. On the other hand, without a strong emphasis on convergent thought, science would become a mess created by continuous theory changes and scientific progress would again be precluded. On Kuhn’s view, both convergent and divergent thought are therefore equally necessary for the progress of science. In this paper, I shall argue that a similar fundamental tension exists between the demands we see for novel insights of an interdisciplinary nature and the need for established intellectual doctrines founded in the classical disciplines. First, I shall revisit Kuhn’s analysis of the essential tension between tradition and innovation. Next, I shall argue that the tension inherent in interdisciplinary research between, on the one hand, intellectual independence and critical scrutiny and, on the other hand, epistemic dependence and trust is a complement to Kuhn’s essential tension within mono-disciplinary science between convergent and divergent thought.” (Hanne Andersen (2012) The Second Essential Tension: On Tradition and Innovation in Interdisciplinary Research March 2012.  Topoi 32(1)   DOI: 10.1007/s11245-012-9133-z)

[ii] “There is a mode of vital experience‑‑experience of space and time, of the self and others, of life’s possibilities and perils‑‑that is shared by men and women all over the world today.  I will call this body of experience ‘modernity.’  To be modern is to find ourselves in an environment that promises us adventure, power, joy, growth, transformation of ourselves and the world‑‑and, at the same time, that threatens to destroy everything we have, everything we know, everything we are.  Modern environments and experiences cut across all boundaries of geography and ethnicity, of class and nationality, of religion and ideology:  in this sense, modernity can be said to unite all mankind.  But it is a paradoxical unity, a unity of disunity:  it pours us all into a maelstrom of perpetual disintegration and renewal, of struggle and contradiction, of ambiguity and anguish.  To be modern is to be part of a universe in which, as Marx said, ‘all that is solid melts into air.’”  (Berman, Marshall.  (1982)  All That is Solid Melts into Air.  Simon and Schuster, N.Y.  384 pp.)