It all begins with a beverage glass.
It is neither full nor empty, but contains liquid at the exact halfway mark.
Some people will call that glass half-full, some people will call that half-empty.
Both are wrong, and both are right.
How can someone be wrong and correct at the same time? Isn't that a state of paradox?
Why, yes it is.
What is Paradox? Let's define it, because it lies at the heart of my Theory of Relativity.
PARADOX -- par'a-doks", n [L. paradoxum, < Gr. paradoxon, neut. of paradoxos, contrary to received opinion, incredible.] A statement or proposition seemingly self-contradictory or absurd, and yet explicable as expressing a truth; such statements collectively, or the making of them; as, to indulge in paradox (as Vera does); a self-contradictory and false proposition; an argument which through a valid process of deduction arrives at a self-contradictory conclusion; an opinion or statement contrary to received opinion; any person, thing, or act exhibiting apparent contradictions or inconsistencies. (-- The LIVING WEBSTER Encyclopedic DICTIONARY of the English Language)
The definition I will use here is:
"Paradox is an argument that contains in it two perfectly opposite yet true conditions, WITHOUT attempting to reconcile them."
Now, here is my argument.
We speak in paradox nearly every "spoken" minute of our lives. We use statements that contain disjointed, unrelated, yet *CONSTANT concepts* (to which I will from now on refer as *truths*) that we accept as valid, and yet, these truths we have never properly attempted to connect at the most fundamental base. In fact, these "truths" can and do ring wildly discordant when juxtaposed....
An example paradox statement: "Life sucks because the universe is unfair, and yet life is great because the universe is perfect. "
Often, even as we use these "raw elements" of truth in the same sentence, we do not even realize that we have not explained the cohabitation of these elements to ourselves, much less to the other people listening to us speak. We take them so much for granted that we haven't bothered to dissect our own premises.
Well, for starters, because it really is tough. Kind of like keeping track of an optical illusion. Is that transparent 3D box being seen from its front or its back? Our inner eye keeps switching the perspective on us mid-stride....
Indeed, these chunks of truth are like clods of turf ripped out from different parts of a lawn -- on the surface they bear no visible connection whatsoever, and yet, because we KNOW they are connected, we know that we ourselves have harvested these chunks from the lawn, we FORGET that it is important we SHOW the connections to others, show them our threads of underlying logic.
As a result of our general forgetfulness, our tendency to take things and ideas for granted, we use *imprecise* words, to lump these clods of raw truth together, and do not pause to consider that by doing so we might be undermining the validity of those separate elements of Truth.
Incidentally, how do we KNOW these things? How do we decide what is Truth?
Let's for the moment call it Instinct. Later I will use another term for this deep subconscious knowledge about certain things, that set of specific convictions that we have internalized, which often seems to spring from some hidden well within ourselves, and seems to "ring true."
Well, dissecting our premises one by one, by means of logic is what can lead us through this maze of arbitrary concepts.
Before we start using that sharp virtual scalpel on our own minds (ouch!), let's first make things easier the following way by making a number of assumptions:
*** There is a Big Picture. ***
What do I mean? I mean that there is a greater Reality that is outside our own limited individual perspectives.
What proof of it is there, some existentialists might argue? How do we know that everything we perceive isn't some weird bizarre dream in the mind of one being (oneself)?
Well, here's the first and truly greatest Leap of Faith. At one point in our conscious existence, most of us decided to accept this Reality as somewhat independent of ourselves.
Can anyone argue with that?
But for the moment, let's just take that as Assumption 1, and allow for the possibility that there is a Big Picture outside ourselves.
Great. (If not, stop now, because the rest of my argument will not convince you.)
Now, let's proceed to the next step:
*** NO ONE really knows WHAT is the origin of the Big Picture -- whether it is the Big Bang, the Big Crunch, the Big God, or the Big Banana. ("Not to know" is the only logical assumption.) ***
Until there is definite unshakable PROOF, to subscribe to ANY of the above (or any other conceivable possibilities) is a *Leap of Faith. *
(Remember, science -- the most logical method of discovery and verification -- only serves to quantify OBSERVABLE PATTERNS in the sensory data around us, and *support* their possible validity. From a compendium of these patterns over history, we have drawn a number of highly useful conclusions that have allowed us to develop a high tech civilization. And yet, no amount of scientific inquiry would help unless there is first a scientist who makes a conscious decision to study a SPECIFIC possible pattern.)
*** The Big Picture can be observed from a number of different perspectives. ***
Why, as many exactly as there are possible individual "observers" -- life forms (or even mechanical recording devices) that have the faculty for observation. Each one of these perspectives is unique. And each one has a window view on their unique side of the Big Picture. Think of a sieve with many holes, each one letting in the light....
*** It is possible to grasp the WHOLE of the Big Picture if one had Absolute sensory faculties. ***
My personal image of such an Theoretical Absolute Entity (TAE) would be a perfectly round Sphere with its complete surface area being a single Receptor with the ability to perceive simultaneously all data from all directions, all distances, and all times (in the past, present, and in the future).
This Sphere TAE model could either be an "outward-bound" receptor (imagine a sun radiating energy out), an "inward-bound" receptor (imagine a hollow beach ball "filled" with the Universe), or some OTHER bizarre "self-inverting" Entity, that decides to switch its own Absolute perspective constantly and thus "observes" both from the inside and the outside simultaneously. I have no words to describe such an Entity, but I think this is as close as we can get to grasping an Absolute.
But wait! There's MORE!
The TAE Sphere described above is an Absolute Receptor.
What about an Absolute *Transmitter?*
What if that SAME Entity was Projecting ALL sensory data with its Inside Perspective at the same time as it was Receiving that same data with its Outside Perspective -- kinda like an endless self-inverting bouncing ball???
Now that's what I call a self-contained universal system.
And because this Entity is constantly inverting its own Perspective between two Absolute (and yet simultaneous and coexisting) Poles, the energy moving back and forth along itself is now itself an Absolute. It is the Fabric of the Universe.
Confused? Criminy, we all are! *grin*
In fact, this implies that the WHOLE Universe is just one Big Paradox.
And it also implies -- at least to me -- that the very act of *movement,* which some refer to as "life," is but the reverberation of energy between elements of a paradox.
*** There is only ONE Absolute Perspective and as many Relative Perspectives as there are individual vantage points (both time and space) in the universe. (In this case, vantage points are individual entities occupying the universal time and space TAE Sphere, that can observe.) ***
Why only one? Well, because it is all-encompassing. To have more than one such Absolute perspective would be redundant, and probably impossible. (Such Absolutes would have to be Clones of each other, and each would have to occupy the *exact same* moment/place in the space time continuum, effectively canceling out one another. The Universe might blow up... *grin*)
Incidentally, the only thing that supports the possibility of the existence of Absolutes is the very existence of the Big Picture itself -- after all, if it's there, then THEORETICALLY something must be able to grasp it. And that something must be great enough to contain all of the universe. But even here is an apparent paradox -- that same "something" may not be "outside" the universe (since there's no such thing) but must be a part of it.
Ok, that might be a little fuzzy....
So, how about this: *IF* there is a Big Picture, then in its complete form it is Absolute. (If there was *something* beyond it, then it wouldn't be Absolute, but a subset of the Absolute, and would then be called the "Itty-Bitty Partial Picture," not the "Big Picture." Note how the term "The Big Picture" is itself a relative term -- it is merely "big" to us, because we cannot even conceive of an Absolute.)
*** The Absolute is the only FIXED Perspective, or the only CONSTANT, while the Relative Perspectives are all MUTABLE, fluctuating in relation to each other and to the Absolute.***
In other words, the universe is in a state of movement. Only its *sum total* is not. That goes to the idea that there is a finite amount of matter-energy in the universe. That is the Absolute.
(NOTE: If you do not subscribe to this assumption, if you think the sum total amount of matter-energy in the universe is fluctuating, then you will necessarily NOT accept the concept of Absolutes. Stop now, because the rest of my argument will not convince you. Incidentally, if you think so, I would be curious to hear your reasons WHY you think the total amount of matter-energy in the universe is undergoing change -- if it's increasing, I'd like to know *from where* the growth is coming, and if it's decreasing, I'd like to know where the hell all of it is dropping off to?)
*** Communication is an attempt to build a bridge between different Relative Perspectives (such as us silly people). In the process of building the bridge, a common vantage point is necessary. And that vantage point MUST be taken from the Absolute perspective -- the Absolute Perspective being the only COMMON thing all of us Relative perspectives share. ***
Why? Because all things non-Absolute are Relative to each other and the Absolute. And being in a state of constant movement, the very *nature* of our Relativity to one another changes all the time, and since both are changing, our locations in the space-time continuum change. It becomes impossible to find a common reference point between us, because the very points move around.
However, the nature of our Relativity to the Absolute (the Big Picture) remains the same, since only WE are changing, while the Absolute remains the same. It thus becomes possible to make comparisons and to draw references, based on each Relative entity's relationship to the Absolute.
AND NOW, THE ARGUMENT:
Enough of all those assumptions already, you say, what's your point?
Well, here it is.
Beauty, Truth, Perfection, Justice, Art, Loyalty, etc. and a myriad other concepts, are all merely Relative PROPERTIES of the same thing, which is the Absolute. They all serve to describe different aspects of things on a limited "understandable" basis -- understandable to us.
In fact, WE CREATED all of these aspects in order to allow us to communicate at all, on our own limited Relative Scale.
Yes, we created BEAUTY. We created TRUTH. We created LOYALTY. We created ART.
What we DID NOT create is the ABSOLUTE which encompasses all of the above. We simply broke it down into understandable lesser parts that we can all grasp, parts that are Absolute in themselves, and yet are Relative to us.
And to throw in a healthy pinch of Paradox, we use these different properties of one thing together and interchangeably on a regular basis to express our opinions to others, while we continue talking about the same damn thing....
To make matters worse, some of these properties are "more relative" than others...
Let's take a beverage glass which contains liquid up to the halfway mark. Let's call the glass beautiful, ugly, empty, full. All of the statements would apply. And we can certainly argue futilely as to whether the glass really is ugly or beautiful, empty or full -- we could argue only up to a point of comparison, until someone brought in another glass, and we could have a different frame of reference.
And even then, we could only argue until we have exhausted the limits of the glass to support that property in question. Example -- when the glass begins to overflow, we know that it has reached the limits of its fullness. "Fullness or Emptiness" are Absolute Properties for the glass.
But we cannot know the limits of the glass's beauty or ugliness until we compare it with an even more beautiful or even more ugly glass -- this could go on for as long as new glasses are provided as subjects of comparison. Thus, "Beauty and Ugliness" are Relative Properties of the Glass.
Now, let's call the glass loyal or false. That would make very little sense simply because we are not used to looking at drinking glasses in that sense.... And that will not even be an arguable point where the glass is concerned, because those properties are NOT Properties of the glass.
Okay, so then, any given thing can have Absolute, Relative, and Irrelevant or Non-Properties.
And ALSO, all of these are *Properties of the Absolute.*
Does that make sense?
Did you notice the difference there? The difference between "Absolute Properties of a thing" and "Properties of the Absolute?"
Good, because that is a tough one.... Two totally different concepts using very similar language to describe them. See how easy it is to allow that Paradox to slip in? *grin*
Now, assuming that all things have properties of the Absolute, as described above, it is valid to say that some of these properties may be SHARED. In other words, they are Overlapping properties, such as a glass or a person can be beautiful, while a glass and a person may not be full in the same sense, since a glass may be full of water, while a person may be "full" with having eaten too much (Partially Overlapping properties), and a person may be loyal but a glass may not be loyal (Non-Overlapping properties).
Okay, now we have established that all things might SHARE properties of the Absolute by having them be Overlapping, Partially Overlapping, and Non-Overlapping.
Yikes, one might think, what is this? First we have Absolute, Relative, and Irrelevant properties, next we have Overlapping, Partially-Overlapping, and Non-Overlapping properties! Criminy!!
Well, I am not done yet...
In addition, there are DEGREES of all of the above! From very much so, to not at all...
Now, you might ask, WHY bother breaking things down to that extent?
Why, so that we could have... COMMUNICATION, that's why! So that we can draw comparisons according to properties, and understand from our different Relative Perspectives what each one of us means!
Now, if you've followed this long argument so far, you may no longer be surprised if I say that Art is Truth which is Beauty.
Because you now know what I mean by that (hopefully... *grin*). You would know that I am talking about three different Properties that are used to describe the same Absolute thing. Used in the same sentence, they create a Paradox, until we break them down and explain each one.
For example, let' take Victor Hugo's famous character Quasimodo, the Hunchback, that everyone calls ugly (physically, he is). And yet, everyone who has read the story will undoubtedly say that Quasimodo is beautiful (his personality is beautiful).
So, how can Quasimodo be both ugly and beautiful at the same time? He cannot be, unless the property Beauty was also a property of the ABSOLUTE and therefore *overlapped* with the Property of *Goodness.* Since Quasimodo is low on the physical beauty scale, yet high on the goodness scale, it is legitimate to make a PROPERTY SUBSTITUTION.
Beauty is made equivalent to Goodness, and Quasimodo becomes beautiful by *substitution.* Feel that buzz of Paradox? *Hehehe...*
But what about Sleeping Beauty's Wicked Stepmother? She was beautiful physically, yet horribly evil. Well, once again, we engage in property substitution. By calling her ugly, we are merely referring to the fact that she scores low on the goodness scale, and a low score here can be transferred to an Overlapping property of Beauty.
Why do that? Because in this case the Property of Goodness-Evil describes this subject more strongly, and that is why we chose to use it as the DOMINANT PROPERTY.
Does that make sense how overlapping or shared Properties can be interchanged?
A reminder -- this switcheroo applies only to properties of an item that *can* overlap. And only in the case of such overlap will there be a hint of Paradox.
A second reminder. There would be no overlapping properties at all if there were no Absolute frame of reference to connect them.
And when we talk about these Properties together, we invoke Paradox, because they are obviously contradicting each other if they were all on the same Relative Scale (which they're not), and yet they are all True (The Absolute Scale). And so, we accept all the statements as True, while we cringe at the Paradox.
Finally, how do we KNOW all of this? How do we know that BOTH the contradictory elements of a Paradox are true? Remember how in the beginning of this post I called it "Instinct," and promised to give another definition?
Well, screw instinct. What we call "instinct" is actually LOGIC. It is our only mental tool of existence.
We are all purely logical creatures, but highly lazy and unwilling to slow down and actually work out the connections that allow us to form a reasoning process. It is the most automatic mental process that we have. Our senses are receptors for physical data. And our LOGIC analyses and organizes that data, whether we like it or not.
There is no faulty logic (unless you have brain damage to certain areas of the brain, or a disease). There is only lack of data. And as a result of lacking data, your LOGIC ENGINE must do as best it can with the data at hand, and make the best conclusions it can.
Oh, and there is also one other thing that can result in the *semblance* of faulty logic -- our strong desires one way or another. This acts like a LOGIC OVERRIDE. Our wishes can influence our Logic Engine to make a "jump" and to skip over or ignore valid though miniscule data -- if it serves our present needs. That can also be called self-delusion.
Sometimes our Logic Engine draws the right conclusions based on a great dearth of data, on minimal snippets of it, to such an extent that we don't even recognize the pattern of reasoning beneath all of it, and simply call it "faith," or a "hunch" or "instinct."
Well, there are no such things as faith or hunches, or instinct. There are only CONSCOUS CHOICES that we direct our Logic Engine to make when faced with little data. For example, remember that Leap of Faith I mentioned in the beginning about whether there is or isn't a Big Picture? Well, each one of us can validly allow our Logic Engine to make a conscious decision one way or another.
But why do most of us decide one way as opposed to another when faced with the same equally uncertain point of decision?
Maybe because we are naturally self-centered creatures. When faced with ambiguity, most of us would rather make an aggressive choice that would reflect positively on our own existence. Nothing wrong with that.
And often, as we make that aggressive "selfish" choice, we merely assert ourselves, our self-perceived existence.
Thus, when we are faced with elements of a Paradox, our automated Logic Engine has already worked out that the elements are all true.
But the rest of the connections have to be made by a *higher* logic than the simple automated one, the kind that we consciously invoke ourselves, the kind we direct upon a given task.
And to do that requires for us to be aware of the fact that there is a task.
It requires EFFORT on our parts.
And here is where Paradox should serve us well as a reminder of a logical task yet unfinished, of things that need to be worked out....
Don't worry, this is a weird and wacky discourse. :-) It's very likely that I had not explained this as well as I should've, and I've forgotten a thing or two, and if there's anything here that you find confusing or contradictory, please post and ask, and let me see if I can take a better shot at explaining my thoughts behind this.
Now, in closing, I would like to make some definitions of select terms, so that you will know what I'm talking about, from now on when I use these terms.
TRUTH -- a Property of the Absolute which describes how things ARE on an Absolute Scale. (Often confused with Reality). Because the Absolute Scale is not yet within our means of perceiving, Truth also appears just beyond our reach. That however does not mean it's not out there. :-) Yup, The X-Files has the right idea... :-)
REALITY -- A Property of the Absolute which describes how things ARE on a Relative scale (as in OUR present reality). It is a "Truth" of the moment, and hence a False Truth in the Absolute Sense.
BEAUTY -- A Property of the Absolute which describes our initial response to a subject, in terms of desirability. Things we need, or lack in ourselves, we find beautiful. A highly Relative term. (Remember, the concept of physical Beauty would not even exist if our society did not value it. Also, different societies have different standards of beauty. And yet this property becomes Absolute when used in conjunction with other Overlapping Properties.)
LOYALTY -- A Property of the Absolute that describes the fulfillment of our basic need. Often appears highly Relative to Other Perspectives.
ART -- Two separate definitions: a) the striving of an entity to recreate the Absolute. b) the end product itself that unconsciously and possibly without the artist's intent, manages to recreate the Absolute.
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And that's about the end of it for the moment, folks.
Or is it the Beginning? (Well you know how it is -- it's both, just your run of the mill paradox.)
* * *
NOTE: This essay was originally cross-posted to sff.people.vera-nazarian and sff.discuss.philosophy newsgroups on SFF Net.