John Dewey opens up his remarkable little book Experience and Education by saying that, “Mankind likes to think in terms of extreme opposites. It is given to formulating its beliefs in Either-Ors, between which it recognizes no intermediate possibilities” (1938:17).
I am not sure if the predisposition of humankind towards dualism is neuro-biological, but it does seem to be a universal inclination from a socio-philosophical point of view. Nevertheless, dualistic thinking when confronted by a critical-realist usually exposes its limited objectivity. Dewey says later that one must compromise when the extreme beliefs do not work in practicality. Either-Ors are extreme beliefs and often are only tempered by finding the mean between the extremes.
It hearkens to the notion that Aristotle spoke about as the ethical doctrine of the mean, where a virtue is “a state that lies between two vices, one of excess and the other of deficiency” (Kraut, 2014: Web).
Dualisms and the doctrine of the mean are Western ways of thinking in rather linear and mathematical ways. (I am not sure that Eastern people have these same philosophical difficulties, parsing and making endless distinctions.) Since I am a Westerner I tend towards these dilemmas because of my socio-cultural formation.
Nevertheless, in my first Master’s thesis I proposed some paradoxical ideas which may have not be original to me, but I was unaware of their origin when I wrote about them. One of these paradoxes I wrote about in my first book, The Great Commandment Leader, was related to a missiological approach to Christianity that tapped into both centripetal and centrifugal forces equally. This both/and approach was not a mean between the two forces, but a paradoxical combining of these forces to create a new force, which I coined as intrafugal force (see the diagram, left). Intrafugal force combined simultaneously a sending out of missionaries to un-evangelized areas from a particular center with equal force (emphasis) on evangelizing locally both the churched and the unchurched towards that center.
The above is parenthetical to my main idea that I want to explore today, which is the notion of an inverted continuum as a pathway to discovering deeper truth. Nonetheless, it is the paradoxical that I want to emphasize. Thus, restating the intrafugal paradox emphasizes the possibilities that Westerners can, in fact, think non-linearly, and must do so to discover deeper things of God (see 1 Co 2:10).
If Dewey and Aristotle are right about the polemical nature of the Western (or even human) mind (and who I am to argue with such great thinkers), then a new way of discovering deep truth is necessary. My experience has shown me that it is in the dichotomy of reality, the mystery of competing ideas, of polemical dualisms colliding together like atoms smashing into one another, that deep truth is discovered (as well as respect and love of others).
Thus, if we take a look at two ideas on a continuum, let’s just say something simple like left and right, we find that there is no reconciling them. Aristotle might say that there is a moderating position, a mean which can be found somewhere in the middle. But in this regard it is something less than Left and less than Right. In politics this might be the moderate position, one who holds some conservative views and some liberal views, but not both at the same time.
Holding competing beliefs simultaneously will not be possible by inventing some golden mean, but stretching and inverting the continuum. We must make Left and Right confront each other in love to learn from each other, without giving up on their nature of being Left and Right.
In the inverted continuum, as you can see, Left is still Left and Right is still Right, but they have met and co-exist in the same space and time (see Ps 85:10). Now, my scientific knowledge is quite limited, but I hope that I have been able to convey a bit of my process in approaching the reconciling of distinctions, not solving the dualisms, but embracing the mystery of the both/and, rather than living in the either/or of often contentious and polemical distinctions.
What do you think? Does this make sense? Does it open up possibilities for you?
Dewey, John. Experience and Education. New York, NY: Free Press, 1938. Print.
Kraut, Richard, “Aristotle’s Ethics”, The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Summer 2014 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.), URL = <http://plato.stanford.edu/archives/sum2014/entries/aristotle-ethics/>.
© 2015, Paul Dordal