Note: There are many different sorts of paradoxes. Most of the paradoxes referred to here would be categorized as dialethia.
© 2007, 2008 Jonathan Zap Edited by Austin Iredale
“Words that are strictly true seem to be paradoxical.”—Lao-tse
“There is nothing absolute and final. If everything were ironclad, all the rules absolute and everything structured so no paradox or irony existed, you couldn’t move. One could say that man sneaks through the crack where paradox exists.” —Itzhak Bentov
“Objection, evasion, joyous distrust, and love of irony are signs of health. Everything absolute belongs to pathology.” Nietzsche, Beyond Good and Evil
Dynamic paradoxicalism is my attempt to create a meta-philosophy that is a counter to fundamentalist and absolutist thought, which is nearly as common amongst New Agers and the Left as it is amongst religious fundamentalists and the Right. The greatest of life skills is the ability to live with ambiguity, ambivalence, and paradox, without trying to regularize these uncertainties into finished, absolute truths. Dynamic paradoxicalism recognizes that most important areas of truth exist as a paradox, where seemingly contradictory elements have a dynamic level of validity based on context specific circumstances. Although a greater conception that synthesizes the disparate elements of a paradox into a grand unit is an awesome addition to the conceptual toolbox, it is not always the most useful tool in the box. Dynamic paradoxicalism recommends an ability to slide between the poles of a paradox, in some circumstances favoring the point of view of one side of the paradox, in other cases the other pole, and in still other cases favoring the unified view.
Dynamic paradoxicalism is based on the the principle that the opposite of a profound truth is often another profound truth. Niels Bohr, the great pioneer of quantum mechanics recognized this in his Theory of Complementarity. In The Alphabet versus the Goddess, Leonard Shlain concisely recognized the Theory of Complementarity as a key turning point in science:
“Bohr challenged another scientific shibboleth in 1927 by proposing that opposites were not necessarily either/or, as all earlier Western dualistic thinkers had assumed, but rather might be both/and. He said that the opposite of a shallow truth is a falsehood, but that the opposite of a profound truth was another profound truth. In his Theory of Complementarity, Bohr posited that opposites were two different aspects of a higher unity existing just beyond our limited perceptual apparatus. When the Danish king knighted him for his pioneering work, Bohr chose the Chinese yin/yang icon of the Tao for his heraldic coat of arms. Aware that his discovery had implications beyond the specialized world of quantum physics, Bohr chose to publish his Complementarity Theory in a philosophy journal, and it did not contain a single equation.” (396)
Some may read these introductory paragraphs and confuse dynamic paradoxicalism with relativism. The relativist is the inverted version of an absolutist. The relativist does not believe in absolute truths—has an absolute disbelief in absolutes—and finds that everything is relative to a point of view, and that most points of view are culturally determined and highly unreliable. But a relativist is also a self-deceiving absolutist, as they have an absolute belief in relativism. The most classic statement repeated by relativists—whether they know themselves to be relativists or not—is, “Don’t be judgmental.” But notice that this statement is perfect in its self-contradiction, as it is in itself a judgment, and ranks nonjudgmental people as more correct than judgmental people. In philosophy this is called “an error of performance:” you contradict your assertion even as you make it.
Dynamic paradoxicalism is all about judgment, good judgment: the ability to use all your faculties, and especially your global intuition, to make careful discernments about where you need to be in relation to key paradoxes in particular situations. So, “Don’t be judgmental” should be stated, “Don’t be falsely judgmental.” Life requires good judgment. An absolutist would like to replace the responsibility for judgment onto absolute truths, a divine document, and/or people or entities that are supposed to have perfect judgment. Relativists tend to castrate the ability to make judgments. They especially like to castrate absolutists, and I can sympathize with that tendency because absolutists propagate like fruit flies around forbidden fruit, and are the oft-sadistic masters of being falsely judgmental. But relativists also tend to castrate themselves, and everyone, because no one in their view is empowered to make judgments, and their only certitude is the absolute truth of relativism and their absolute judgment in favor of being nonjudgmental.
The paragraphs above tell you what dynamic paradoxicalism is, and what it isn’t, and now we are left with cases, illustrations, applications, and reinforcing principles. Dynamic paradoxicalism is easy to define, but may have limited appeal given the powerful human preference for certitudes and absolutes. The ego has a difficult and often thankless job trying to mediate between the inner world and the outer world, and it finds ambiguity, ambivalence, and paradox, stressful and confusing. The ego prefers that the map be the territory because that would make navigation easier. It likes to force premature closure on complex uncertainties, and find all encompassing solutions to life’s problems. It prefers one-size-fits-all over the complexity of the case specific point of view. Dynamic paradoxicalism insists that you be the navigator, and that you cannot abdicate your responsibility to make judgments onto a cognitive map of absolutes. Often people recognize and spurn the false cognitive maps of other absolutists without recognizing that they also live by absolute cognitive maps. For example, a New Age person will criticize religious fundamentalists without realizing that they also live by absolute cognitive maps such as relativism, you-create-your-own-reality, and the power of positive thinking.
The ego understandably hates paradox, ambivalence, ambiguity, complexity, and uncertainty, and would like to clear these up into a grand solution. It wants to take the murkiness and replace it with a shining fundamentalism, or an ism of some sort, a divine map that illuminates all territories: past, present and future. The Ken Wilber version of this tendency would be to take any of these paradoxes and unify them into a grand diagram, a new paradigm that elevates the Wilberite to an Olympian meme, transcendent of all dualities.
Dynamic paradoxicalism puts great value on the ability to live with paradox, ambivalence, ambiguity, complexity, and uncertainty, without trying to wrestle them into premature closure and clarification. However, dynamic paradoxicalism doesn’t mean that you forever dwell in the swamps of ambiguity; it means that you wait for genuine illumination and realizations, the kind that aren’t forced, the aha moments when global intuition shows a way through. While you wait for those penetrating insights, you make the best judgments you can to get through the day.
Dynamic paradoxicalism agrees with the modern Taoist sage Deng Ming-Dao, who writes: “Never under estimate the value of a partial solution.”
If dynamic paradoxicalism were to form an alliance with any other ism, it would be Taoism, but with a key difference. Taoism, at least the way it is usually presented, is an extroverted version of dynamic paradoxicalism. The emphasis is on the fluid adaptation to ever changing outer circumstances. Dynamic paradoxicalism also emphasizes dynamic adaptation to the inner world, and it works from inside out. The dynamic paradoxicalist centers himself on something like what Aleister Crowley called “True Will.” True Will, as I use the term, is your inner refraction of the Tao, the deeply felt sense of enthusiasm, meaningfulness, purpose, and sacred quest toward a life aim. (see The Path of the Numinous ) True Will should be followed even when outer circumstance puts up fierce resistance. True Will is the trembling needle of the compass that points the way through the ambiguities, paradoxes, and uncertainties. Dynamic paradoxicalism, but not Taoism, supports the following quote from George Bernard Shaw:
“The reasonable man adapts himself to the world. The unreasonable one persists in trying to adapt the world to himself. Therefore, all progress depends on the unreasonable man.”
This quote brings us to the first of many of the paradoxes to relate to dynamically:
Adapting to Circumstance vs. Shifting the Matrix
Sometimes the emphasis is on adapting to outer circumstance—it is raining and so we bring our umbrella. At other times the emphasis is on shifting the matrix, summoning all our will and magic to transform circumstance. Sometimes it is best to “render unto Caesar what is Caesar’s” Other times it is best to risk our lives to rebel against injustice. And in still other cases, we choose a middle spectrum position. A related paradox is:
You Create Your Own Reality vs. Outer Reality Creates You
Recently I was traveling with someone, a very interesting, complex, and worthwhile character, but who also proved to be an absolutist, a New Age fundamentalist whose whole family was under the spell, benign or malign, of various channeled entities. He believed—though pragmatic and shrewd in most other ways—so absolutely in the you-create-your-own-reality principle—deemed the absolute of absolutes by various channeled entities—that his plan for financial independence was to, “Manifest money into my checking account.” This was meant absolutely literally, no deposit would have to be made by him or anyone.
The solipsistic assertion, you-create-your-own-reality, comes from channelers and the entities they claim to channel. It originated with Jane Roberts—channeler of “Seth”—in the early 1960s, and has since been picked up by other channelers and associated entities. For example, Seth says:
“And, if you believe, in very simple terms, that people mean you well, and will treat you kindly, they will. And, if you believe that the world is against you, then so it will be in your experience”
(hear an audio clip of Seth saying this: http://www.sethlearningcenter.org/)
As with most channeled material I have encountered, what is presented, usually with aphoristic authority, are dangerous half-truths. (See: The Siren Call of Hungry Ghosts ) for more on why you should be wary about channeled material. In many social situations, what you expect of others will greatly affect how they treat you. But there are other cases where this doesn’t apply very well at all. Let’s say I am a Polish Jew when the Nazi army is invading Poland. Should I seek refuge in another country? No, that would be a fear-based surrender to negative thinking. Instead I should stay put and focus on how kindly I will be treated by the Nazis.
With fundamentalist consistency, other post-Roberts channelers insist on the same absolutism. For example, John Cali, the channeler of “Chief Joseph,” writes:
“. . .the idea intrigued me, so I kept studying and reading everything I could get my hands on. Finally, it made sense. I accepted we are totally responsible for whatever manifests in our lives—all of it. It’s either that or we’re victims. I never liked being a victim”
Notice that John’s thinking is the opposite of dynamic paradoxicalism: “It’s either that or we’re victims.” In other words, it is either one absolute or another, and this is the absolutism I prefer, therefore it applies in all cases. From this point of view, rape victims should be counseled that they invited or manifested the attack—however unconsciously—and need to look for the cause within. But there are such things as victims, an abused infant for example, but accepting that doesn’t mean the opposite absolutism, that we’re all victims, since there are many people who have discovered ways of being empowered in difficult circumstances. The absolutist never acknowledges that there is a middle range of positions, as well as some cases that fall on either pole of the paradox.
You-create-your-own-reality does not work as an absolutism, but it is a major reality formation vector. In many cases, you do create your own reality, as in the principle, “Psychology is destiny.” This principle applies most potently to our inner reality, and next most potently to our voluntary relationships and life circumstances—much more so if we live in a relatively free society. This principle also applies potently, but not absolutely, to the dreamtime. Since our dreams can involve visits or invasions by other autonomous entities, they may not be entirely our own creations. Also, it is an unproven assumption that even when we are alone in the dreamtime that the dream is entirely our own creation. I have noticed that the surreal complexity of dreams, with their double and triple entendres and layers of symbolism, does not seem to be at all dependent on the imaginative capacity of the dreamer. People whose waking personalities seem dull and unimaginative have dreams that seem like they could have been directed by David Lynch.
You-create-your-own-reality absolutists may invoke quantum mechanics to justify their fundamentalism. Indeed, the wave-particle duality—a photon being a particle or a wave depending on which you expect it to be—does raise questions about reality as observer dependent. Again, I feel that this principle is a potent reality-forming vector; I just don’t think it is the only vector. There may be other humans collapsing the wave function based on different intentions than ours, and there is also the gigantic inertia and momentum of the collective human psyche affecting our world. There is a New Age tendency to use quantum mechanics as a magic wand, or an endless supply of fairy dust, that can be used to justify any proposition, no matter how fantastic. The abuse of Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle, which was created to have very specific application on the subatomic plane, is used by some relativists and New Agers to mean, “Everything is uncertain,” which for them means, “Anything goes.”
Quantum mechanics does have profound implications, but we can’t be cavalier about applying them to the human reality. Quantum mechanics applies to the subatomic domain, and it is comprehensible in the language of mathematics, not English, so we need to be careful about applying our personal mythology of what quantum mechanics means to the human domain.
Another way to justify you create your own reality is to radically redefine the “you” in the principle. If the “you” refers to the personal ego and its wants and desires (which is how most people implicitly use it), then you have the weakest and most repugnant version of the principle. If “you” is redefined as the Self, or expanded to an ultimate degree so that it means a cosmic awareness underlying and connecting everything, then you have the strongest and most valid case of the principle.
Jung defined the “Self” as the totality of all the psychic structures. It is the Self, not the ego that would have access to True Will—a will that derives from essence and that is in accord with the will of the cosmos. If the “you” is the Self creating from True Will, then the principle becomes far more robust.
In many instances, you-create-your-own-reality is the most useful side of the paradox, especially when applied to psychology, individual and collective, and the circumstances created by same psychological factors. Someone who is caught in a neurotic reality tunnel and has a history of abusive relationships as a result of their own unconscious choices would be well advised to move past victim-of-circumstance self-pity to see how they have largely created their own reality. But the you-create-your-own-reality absolutists don’t stop there, they apply this principle to victims of tsunami and famine, they apply it overconfidently to cases where huge macro physical events affect an entire population. In some given case, this could still have a possible validity. For example, statistical analysis shows that a significantly greater number of people than average make last minute cancellations on plane flights that later crash. Some given person might have watched the water moving away from the shore and instead of accessing some primal intuition to run to higher ground, as many animals did, allowed some inner intention toward oblivion to keep them on the beach. Another way of stretching the principle to cover cases like this is to resort to past lives, and to claim, based on no direct evidence, that everyone hit by a tsunami or erupting volcano, etc, had past life karma that made such circumstances right for them, or unconsciously intended by them. Although this can’t be proven or disproven, it starts to get morally repugnant, as an affluent New Ager can thereby feel that people experiencing macro catastrophic events are still in charge of their own destinies. From their POV, an infant dying of AIDS is creating their own reality, however unconsciously, as surely as some affluent person repeating a neurotic tendency in romantic relationships.
Although you-create-your-own-reality absolutists never admit this, their principle requires an act of faith as much as any religious fundamentalism. They never acknowledge how much their principle is divorced from empirical experience. Why hasn’t some sufficiently positive thinking you-create-your-own-reality person, for example, created a world without any environmental pollution? If everyone is creating their own reality, why does the rotation and orbit of the earth have such predictable clockwork accuracy? Wouldn’t some true believing schizophrenic who knew absolutely that the earth’s orbit was based on his whims have an influence? Wouldn’t people who wanted a particular day or night to last a bit longer throw off the Newtonian clockwork? Does the you-create-your-own-reality principle apply only to benign, politically correct intentions like world peace—which shows no signs of happening, despite all sorts of individual and mass prayers and intentions? Wouldn’t the principle apply with equal validity to malevolent individuals? Suppose my intention is to bring a black hole into the solar system or to abuse and manipulate someone else’s reality? Since we are part of a human collective, what happens when our application of the you-create-your-own-reality principle is inconsistent with other members of the community? How does that get worked out? Even on the individual scale, the principle seems to work in some cases, but not others. There are all sorts of medical miracles where someone does seem to create their own reality in direct contradiction of medical prognosis. But this effect seems to go only so far; we don’t, for example, have any documented case of a transsexual, who absolutely believed he was another gender, waking up one day to find a new set of genitals that matched his beliefs, intentions, etc Somewhere I remember reading about someone who observed many faith healings, and saw many crutches thrown away, but never a wooden leg. Philip K. Dick said, “Reality is that which, when you stop believing in it, doesn’t go away.”
On the other side of this paradox, outside reality creates you. An example of this point of view is environmental determinism. Environmental determinists believe that that physical environmental factors determine human behaviors, social structures and culture. I dislike this position as an absolute as well, but the environmental determinist has a much more impressive array of evidence to support their position. Environmental determinism is the position of a book like Guns, Germs and Steel, which makes a case for climate and microbiological factors as keys to explain why technological civilization would arise in some parts of the world, but not others. Marxism is another case of environmental determinism, where the economic structure of a society is said to determine everything else. A potent example of cultural determinism is language. All of us speak and think in one or more languages that long predated us. Our minds were booted up in a domain of English users, and this language, determined outside of us, drastically affects our sense of time and our perception of all manner of inner and outer realities. If I create my own reality than I must have created English as well, since this is too gigantic a factor in my life to have possibly been determined outside of me.
Environmental determinism may be valid in some cases, but is a deeply flawed proposition if accepted as an absolutism. Environmental determinism is an extraverted, fundamentalist/materialist point of view. It does not sufficiently take the human psyche into account. Nazism was not merely a response to economic and climatic conditions, but an eruption of the collective unconscious.
According to dynamic paradoxicalism, some things are best understood as realities created by psyche, others by outside causation, and still others by a confluence of the two factors. A unified way of including both sides of this duality is to say that, yes, you create your own reality, but this you is not necessarily you as an individual, but rather the universal mind, the source out of which your psyche manifests.
Oneness vs. Eachness
Some people in the New Age, particularly those who have dabbled in Eastern practice, have swung with the pendulum of enatiadromia to a new extreme or one-sideness. They will monotonously insist on the oneness of everything no matter what is being discussed, and use this obvious reality as a way of leveling all difference, distinction and discernment. This point of view can be even more limiting than the tunnel vision of the reductive thinker, since at least the reductive thinker is still thinking about and investigating something, no matter how much they miss the infinite, interelated context of the something. This type of New Ager, however, takes oneness as a truism that relieves them of the need for thinking, discrimination and discernment and pulls oneness out of a hat, like the most tired of magician’s rabbits, whenever any issue requiring discernment appears. Recognizing that individuals or groups that are in conflict are part of the same oneness is crucial, but it is also crucial to recognize their individual differences and what sets them apart. The great American pioneer psychologist William James wrote more than a century ago that besides the oneness of things, anyone who glances at the phenomenal world should also be struck by the eachness of things. We see a world of unique individual trees and people, for example, and not an homogenous mass of treeness or undifferentiated pool of humanity. The androgynous mind recognizes that there is both oneness and eachness, these are the two poles of the paradox that must be held in mind to understand both interrelation and individuality.
A more surreal look into Oneness vs. Eachness: Lessons for an Entity Incarnating as a Mammal
For an hilarious example of a New Ager trying to use the most tired of magician’s rabbits see:
Inner Independence vs. Dependence
Inner independence is the answer to a thousand forms of neurotic torment, and yet there are other times when dependence may be more appropriate.
I’ve written a great deal on the virtue of inner independence. From the point of view of inner independence, your one obligation in life is to get your relationship to yourself right. Accomplish that, often a moment-by-moment accomplishment, and your relations to others, to sex, time, money, power, health, career, political situations, gravity and movement, will be as good as they possibly can be. Omit, neglect, or distort any part of the relationship to yourself, and your relations to all those attributes will accordingly be diminished and distorted. The classic case of inner independence is seeking wholeness within, the inner alchemical marriage of yin and yang, feminine and masculine, rather than seeking to import wholeness from without through another person.
But there are circumstances where dependence may be appropriate. For example, if a mother has just given birth to an infant, she should be allowed to hold the infant and encourage him to nurse as soon as possible, to allow a bond of absolute dependence to form. Although inner independence is the sensible approach to romantic relationships, the principle answer to neurotic infatuations, codependence, and fragmentation, the soul may not want to be sensible. As Blaise Pascal put it four centuries ago, “The heart has its reasons which reason knows nothing of.” The soul, as James Hillman so often points out, pathologizes. Even the I Ching, which extols inner independence as a supreme virtue, acknowledges the subjectivity of the heart and soul, and allows that some may happily choose dependence. For example, consider the third changing line of hexagram 61 in the classic Wilhem/Baynes I Ching:
He finds a comrade.
Now he beats the drum, now he stops.
Now he sobs, now he sings.
Here the source of a man’s strength lies not in himself but in his relation to other people. No matter how close to them he may be, if his center of gravity depends on them, he is inevitably tossed to and fro between joy and sorrow. Rejoicing to high heaven, then sad unto death—this is the fate of those who depend upon an inner accord with other persons whom they love. Here we have only the statement of the law that this is so. Whether this condition is felt to be an affliction or the supreme happiness of love, is left to the subjective verdict of the person concerned.
The sensible, fix-it approach to romantic relationships which assumes everyone wants healthy, functional, stable relationships, is a one-sided absolutism. In an anthology of writings by James Hillman entitled A Blue Fire, there is a chapter entitled “Love’s Torturous Enchantments.” Hillman points out that, from all times and cultures, the lore about romantic relationships tends toward the problematic and tragic, two people becoming three, betrayal dramas, unrequited situations, Romeo and Juliet. His point is that the soul may want love’s torturous enchantments, the soul pathologizes. Inner independence versus dependence “. . . is left to the subjective verdict of the person concerned.”
An Extreme Cautionary Point
In acknowledging a place for darkness and irrationality, the dynamic paradoxicalist must be very wary. This acknowledgment can all to easily slide into the indulgence of sophisticated rationalization where one excuses foolishness by acknowledging that darkness has its place alongside light. This is no small pitfall. This type of rationalization excuses the sadistic and/or hedonistic antics of abusive gurus, for example, by claiming that they are “crazy wisdom teachers.” Dynamic paradoxicalism is a philosophy best suited for those who are grounded in a strong, Warrior stance.
(See: The Warrior Stance)
The dynamic paradoxicalist must take full responsibility for discerning where they need to be in relationship to the paradox. If you find yourself leaning toward the dark, lunar, irrational side of a paradox, be very wary about your motives, and see if this is what the totality of you really needs to do. There should be a heavy burden of proof on the decision to abdicate rationality and discipline.
Spiritual genius and abusive guru Chogyam Trungpa is a classic example of sophisticated rationalization. He defined crazy wisdom in the following way:
“But this craziness is not so neurotic; it’s just basic craziness, which is fearlessness and not giving up anything. Not giving up anything is the basic point. At the same time, you are willing to work with what is there on the basis of its primordial wakeful quality. So that is the definition of crazy wisdom, which is sometimes known as wisdom gone wild.”
Huh? Another explanation is that the Buddhist emphasis on vertical transcendence may often mean a neglect of the horizontal plane of development, such as integration of the shadow, which can then rule the personality as an unintegrated autonomous complex. Trungpa’s crazy wisdom path involved sexual abuse of students and drinking himself to death at the age of 48.
Trungpa’s most famous dysfunctional moment occurred when he drunkenly plowed a sports car into a joke shop in Dumfries, Scotland, an accident that left him partially paralyzed. Trungpa seemed almost proud of that occurrence, a great cosmic joke, but what he should have gotten from this episode (besides the realization that he was a full blown alcoholic) is a respect for the trickster aspect of the unconscious. The trickster aspect of the unconscious is what so many mystics and metaphysical explorers always seem to miss! Doesn’t the history of prophecy and mysticism show us the trickster aspect of the unconscious at work constantly? If you aren’t wary of the trickster function than of course you are going to encounter deities with ego and book-concept-enhancing prophetic messages. The saying I coined to remind myself of this is: Wherever you cast your obsessive attention, there shall you find weird patterning. Conspiracy theorists especially need to be wary of that. (See Carnival 2012—A Psychological Study of the 2012 Phenomenon and the 22 Classic Pitfalls and Blind Spots of Esoteric Research)
Once again, dynamic paradoxicalism is not an invitation to indulging sophisticated rationalization and going with the trickster aspects of the unconscious. It is a philosophy that is only useful to those with a strong moral compass, and who are grounded in a Warrior stance, ready to take full responsibility for their judgments and actions..
One reason why people and groups tend toward absolutisms is the principle known as enantiadromia (en-ANT-ee-a-DROH-mee-a). Jung used the term frequently, but it originates with Heracleitus (b. 540 BC) (also spelled “Heraclitus”)who seems to be one of the earliest dynamic paradoxicalists. According to Encyclopaedia Britannica,
A significant manifestation of the logos, Heraclitus claimed, is the underlying connection between opposites. For example, health and disease define each other. Good and evil, hot and cold, and other opposites are similarly related. In addition, he noted that a single substance may be perceived in varied ways—seawater is both harmful (for men) and beneficial (for fishes). His understanding of the relation of opposites to each other enabled him to overcome the chaotic and divergent nature of the world, and he asserted that the world exists as a coherent system in which a change in one direction is ultimately balanced by a corresponding change in another. Between all things there is a hidden connection, so that those that are apparently “tending apart” are actually “being brought together.”
“Heraclitus.” from Encyclopædia Britannica 2007 Deluxe Edition.
The physical science of the ancients was preoccupied with earth, air, wind, and fire as the fundamental constituents of reality. Heracleitus was part of that point of view, and he fell for a rather one-sided absolutism that fire was the ultimate constituent and water, earth, and everything else, derived from it.
A savagely cruel and ironic sort of enantiadromia played out in Heracleitus ’s own fate:
The death of Heracleitus is perhaps philosophy’s saddest case of the failure of theory to work in practice. Heracleitus identified fire as the principle element of nature and creation. The human soul, as part of the world soul Logos, was man’s fiery part and had to be protected from its opposite, moisture, which dampened the fires while asleep and in excess caused madness. It can only be regarded as tragic irony that he should suffer from dropsy, a condition in which water accumulates in the body. He died in his desperate attempts to draw the moisture out through heat by plastering himself with dung.
Enantiadromia is the tendency of living systems to oscillate between extremes. Heraclietus coined the term and ultimately personified it—a fire absolutist who died of excess water. A more familiar example, someone begins a romantic relationship absurdly idealizing someone, an infatuation, a type of enchantment which leads to the equal and opposite disenchantment—the collapse of idealization, and the equally polarized view that the former beloved is the worst jerk to have ever lived. Someone puts himself on an overly restrictive diet and this leads to the equal and opposite binge. Collectively, many religious systems set up harsh taboos around sexuality, and this leads to the modern tendency to rebel toward promiscuity. Catholic priests have been known to personify enantiadromia in unfortunate ways. The pendulum of enantiadromia can often be an unconscious way of relating to paradox, where an individual or collective fluctuates between the extreme poles of the paradox—like celibacy/promiscuity. Someone rebels from feeling like a victim into believing absolutely in the you-create-your-own-reality principle, where the universe revolves around the individual.
Some versions of a key Ken Wilber insight, the “pre/trans fallacy,” seem to relate to enantiadromia. Essentially, the pre/trans fallacy notices a common tendency to confuse pre-rational states with trans-rational states, since both are non-rational. The “reductivist” version of this is the tendency of “scientism,” which reduces all transrational mystical states to prerational infantilism, and dismisses authentic spiritual experience as “superstitious nonsense.” Freud clearly fell for this half of the fallacy, especially in The Future of an Illusion. The “elevationist” version of the fallacy, ubiquitous in the New Age, is to elevate prerational states to the transcendent and to demonize rationality. From this side of the fallacy, babies are thought to be Buddhas, and anything tribal or aboriginal is romanticized and inflated as infinitely superior to anything modern. Promiscuity is seen as a daring rebellion from antiquated taboos, even though it is usually in high conformity to what peers are doing.
An elevationist may recognize the sexual mores of the past as conventional, but fail to recognize that their “rebellion” into promiscuity is part of a vast conventionalism of the present, and that this new conventionalism is actually based on a still more primitive level of development than the old conventionalism. Regressing to pre-rational hedonism, indulging every impulse and irrational notion is seen as enlightened, post-conventional and transcendent. This is the state of the typically goofy New Age person who never heard an urban legend or bit of mystical-sounding nonsense without adopting it wholesale. This type of person is fiercely anti-intellectual and anti-rational, so it is impossible to talk them down from their absurdities, even the attempt to do so casts you, in their minds, as this clueless rationalist stuck in their ego. They believe they have transcended rationality, while forgetting that to transcend something you first have to achieve it!
Falling for the pre/trans fallacy usually means that someone is caught on the pendulum of enantiadromia and has fallen for absolutisms. Achieving rationality, analytic ability, and discernment seems too dry and difficult so one swings back to infantile-magical thinking and pretends that it is transcendent. Building a strong, conscious ego able to withstand the outrageous slings and arrows of fortune seems too difficult, and so the pendulum swings back to infantile omnipotence, and a confused person believes in you-create-your-own-reality as an absolutism.
The dynamic paradoxicalist is capable of a more subtle and variable relationship to paradoxes than the person or collective caught on the pendulum of enantiadromia, flipping back and forth between zero and one, the absolutist poles of the paradox. The dynamic paradoxicalist is able to respond to subtler cues that his relationship to a given paradox is becoming strained and is in need of compensation, and he is also able to choose middle spectrum positions when appropriate.
On the other hand, the dynamic paradoxicalist doesn’t fall into the fallacy of the “middle path.” The dynamic paradoxicalist doesn’t have to choose the path of Goldilocks, who avoids the porridge that is too hot or too cold and always goes for the tepid mush. Sometimes we want hot or cold, we may need to experience extreme. There can be great value in climbing K2, or in the shattering dark night of the soul; aiming always at the middle is a strategy of tepid mediocrity A frequent New Age affectation is the verbal emphasis on balance. Balance is typically used to indicate the middle path position, the 50/50 state where the scales would be balanced. A perfectly symmetrical statue would have this type of balance, but a much more alive type of balance is dynamic balance, the balance of a ballet dancer or a martial artist. The dynamic paradoxicalist employs dynamic balance, not the static equilibrium of the 50/50 middle state.
For this reason, the dynamic paradoxicalist is not forever favoring paradox over a position committed to one pole or the other. There are times when it is better to be engaged at the poles and not in the middle, or in a detached state of appreciating the nondualistic grand paradox view. The dynamic paradoxicalist is not a proselytizer—as so many absolutists/fundamentalists are—because he recognizes that some people, in some circumstances, may need to engage the poles and may even need to be absolutists or fundamentalists.
From a developmental point of view—an appropriately hierarchical view—many people are not ready for dynamic paradoxicalism. A newborn baby needs to be allowed to form a bond of absolute dependence, and does not need instruction on inner independence. There may be healthy structures living at the poles, which should not be attacked by the paradox view. Some people may be at a developmental stage where they will thrive only by being fundamentalists. Anti-fundamentalism—an ism I often find very attractive—is also a fundamentalism. The Amish are fundamentalists, and while I wouldn’t want to be Amish, I can respect their way of life. Some people may also need to swing with the pendulum of enantiadromia, repeating romantic relationships that begin with idealization and end in bitter disenchantment, because that might be their developmental path.
Seligman, and other psychologists who research the positive affective states—what makes people happy—have discovered that religion makes people happier, but only if it is fundamentalist religion. In considering this finding, a possibility is that fundamentalists may be so used to lying to themselves and believing what they are supposed to believe, that when they answer the questionnaire they believe that they should be happy and confuse that with happiness, which they report on the questionnaire, creating a false finding. If they admitted to being unhappy, that would cast doubt on their fundamentalist way of life. But it is also possible that on some level they really are happier, perhaps because they are comforted and even inspired by having a map of absolutes with which to navigate the complexity and ambiguity of life.
One of the states most closely associated with unhappiness is “psychic entropy”—a classic, fragmented state where one is oppressed by tape loops of negative, repetitive thoughts, anxieties, and afflictive emotions. The term apparently originated with Jung in 1912, but was also far more recently picked up by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi as a way to explain why people would lose the desirable state he called “Flow.” Psychic entropy preponderates in states like boredom and anxiety, where one unpleasantly loses focus and intention. People tend to be happier in social situations than in solitude because the social distracts and diverts them from psychic entropy. The research also shows that almost everyone is happier in company than in solitude, even people who say they prefer solitude. An attraction, I believe, of charismatic people is that they act like a powerful magnet, lining up the scattered iron filings of psychic entropy into neat patterns. The revival meeting preacher, the hyped-up motivational speaker, the rabble-rousing demagogue, the genuinely inspirational visionary, all of these charismatic types are decreasing the psychic entropy of those they are able to magnetize. A fundamentalism has the magnetic charge of polar extremes and it can take a fragmented person, drifting in psychic entropy, and boost him to a state of much higher-level of functioning, making him happier in the process.
A dynamic paradoxicalist does not have to view happiness as an absolute goal. Development is often spurred on by pain, by the dark night of the soul, and therefore suffering and happiness are part of a paradox to be related to dynamically. Higher functioning is not an absolute goal, despite the Western fervor for always being optimal. Illness and aging, immersion in the imaginal process, the need to engage deeply with emotion, grief, ecstasy, and a variety of other states, may make it appropriate, even crucial, that we surrender on occasion the virtue of being high-functioning and optimal.
A characteristic of most isms is that they usually claim to be efficient factories for turning sow’s ears into silk purses. This could be a Christian fundamentalist inviting everyone to be born again, or Anthony Robbins inviting you to awaken the giant within—see his book, Awaken the Giant Within —through the magic of neuro-linguistic programming. There is this false democratic ideal that everyone has equal potential, but the merest glance at the phenomenal world, the slightest consideration of the hierarchies of nature, should dispel this sentimental delusion. Sure, nature may create some conch shells that are organized around the Fibonacci sequence, the mathematical golden mean, but nature also pumps out midgets and giants, there are the runts of the liter and the champion blood hounds, the omegas and the alphas, the high and the low in every quality—strength, speed, beauty, intelligence, character, creativity, will, you name it. Therefore, the capacity to benefit from dynamic paradoxicalism is also extremely variable. From the point of view of the spiral dynamics theory of human evolution, there is a hierarchy of human types organized according to memes, and very large portions of the human species are better suited for fundamentalisms than for a philosophy like dynamic paradoxicalism at this phase of evolution.
The quality and size of a person coming out of a given system usually has a lot more to do with the quality and size of a person entering the system than with the system itself. Sure, for 6’ 7” Anthony Robbins, neuro-linguistic programming awakened a giant within because he had a giant within, like many highly charismatic people he had a high innate level of personal power. The problem is that some people may have a midget within, and that midget might actually wake up better within a religious fundamentalism than something like neuro-linguistic programming, which seems to unconsciously assume that everyone has access to more will, inner resources, and self-initiative than is actually the case. Similarly, if Michael Jordan wrote a book entitled, “Awaken the NBA Star Within,” it might be genuinely inspirational and helpful to a nineteen-year-old, 6’ 9” college basketball star, but may not work so well for many other human types. Even Michael Jordan can no longer awaken the NBA star within.
However, during the Anthony Robbins weekend, all sorts of fragmented people are magnetized by the intense charisma of Anthony Robbins, and get this revival meeting hyped-up high while this towering figure of neuro-linguistic programming zeal is on stage for a couple of days. But left to their own resources—plus some NLP tapes—they revert to psychic entropy and default to the midget within. Though, to be fair, some people at the seminar may really have just the right sort of giant within, and may find NLP and the inspirational example of Anthony Robbins to be miraculously helpful.
I’m not criticizing midgets here. There is a need for compassionate acceptance of the whole hierarchy, and this includes recognizing the fallacy of giants bearing isms, who think they will bring out the giant in everyone. Dynamic paradoxicalism will not turn a sow’s ear into a silk purse, and it will not awaken a giant within unless you have a fairly awake giant within you already.
The wise application of dynamic paradoxicalism has more to do with innate ability and essence than a series of formulae. What makes someone a metaphorical giant is their operating from the Self, the totality of psychic structures, and not merely the ego and/or the mind. From the perspective of the Self, one is aware that perception of what is going on is not merely a diagnosis of an objective outside reality, but is also a choice. In many cases, there is not a single answer to what is happening, but a choice of timelines one may enter based on interpretation of ambiguous circumstances. For example, let’s say I lose my wallet. I can interpret that as a random occurrence—everyone loses things and this is just one more example of that entropic principle. Alternatively, I could choose to interpret the loss of the wallet symbolically. Wallets contain ID, and in dreams loss of a wallet often represents loss of an old identity. I decide to incorporate the loss of the wallet into my life mythos, and use this minor shock to help in the release of an old, false identity. Is one of these perceptions right, and the other wrong? A strong case could be made for either of them, and there is no single correct diagnosis of the event. By choosing the random occurrence view I enter one timeline, and by choosing the symbolic, mythological view I enter another.
When psychologists categorize people as optimists or pessimists they sort them based on their “explanatory style.” A study I read about optimists and pessimists years ago in Omni magazine reported that pessimists turned out to be better at reality testing, their predictions of future outcomes were more accurate than those of optimists. But in every other area of life they evaluated—-wealth, health, relationships, etc. the optimists were found to be significantly better off. More recent studies have confirmed such findings. For example, a nine year, well-controlled study in the Netherlands found that optimists had a 29% lower mortality rate and were 77% less likely to die of cardiovascular disease than pessimists.
(Source: Archives of General Psychiatry – November 2004; 2004;61:1126-35.
A dynamic relationship to paradox means that one has more latitude of explanatory style and can choose from more alternative interpretations. Global intuition can guide one to the interpretation that most empowers the meanings and goals of a particular life path. It would, however, be a one-sided connection to paradox to assume such interpretive latitude exists in every case, and it takes discernment to realize where to use it and where to surrender it. For example, if I wish to send someone an email, I don’t assume much interpretative latitude when it comes to spelling out their email address, though I may have a lot of latitude when it comes to the body of the text.
The dynamic paradoxicalist doesn’t merely tolerate or learn to live with ambiguity, but actually values it. There is a close connection between ambiguity and free will. If everything in our world were sharply defined, we would be living in a mechanical world. To use video games as analogy, if we lived in an early video game like Space Invaders, everything would be sharply defined and mechanical with no ambiguity at all—you know exactly what the computer is going to do, exactly what the rules and the goals are. However, when you play a networked computer game like World of Warcraft, things are much more ambiguous because you have avatars operated by autonomous human beings, and the system is far more open and unpredictable. You can’t even assume that every avatar will operate to enhance the odds of their survival in the game world, since one of them might be spaced-out or bored, or perhaps entertained by self-destruction. When free will enters a system, complexity and ambiguity increase with it. When things become absolute and unambiguous, free will recedes. This is why relationships are notoriously—or wonderfully—ambiguous. You can never be absolutely sure what another person is going to do, unless they are a very mechanical person and/or in very mechanical circumstances. Ambiguity provides greater room for creative interpretive style and for new forms to come into being. The more ambiguous an inner or outer situation is, the more the dynamic paradoxicalist can be dynamic.