In my second post I raised the topic of mind versus brain. There is (or, perhaps more accurately, may be) a duality. I mentioned that there are two basic schools of thought: one holding that mind emerges from brain and the other holding that they are distinct, that mind is – somehow – not physical. For now the duality of the brain/mind question is open.
But there is definitely a duality in the two schools: the two opposing points of view. In this post I want to focus on the idea of duality and the idea of ideas in opposition. This post is about Yin and Yang.
The interlocking ideas behind Yin & Yang are core aspects of how I see life. It is visible everywhere around us and seems to represent a fundamental aspect of the universe. Pairs of things in opposition seem to be everywhere!
It’s very easy to begin listing such opposing pairs:
- Up «–» Down
- Right «–» Left
- Right «–» Wrong
- East «–» West
- Cold «–» Hot
- Light «–» Dark
- Light «–» Heavy
- Positive «–» Negative
- Male «–» Female
- In «–» Out
- Death «–» Birth
The trick is stopping once you start; the list is endless!
The symbol, foremost, represents opposites. In its simplest form, one side is white, the other black. The two sides mirror each other perfectly: they are equals of opposing color and aspect. But there is more to the symbol than just the idea of paired opposites. It also represents two other important things about duality.
First, the division between the two sides is a curve, not a straight line. They blend into each other. The line between two opposites is rarely simple or straight. The curved line is a way of symbolizing the shades of gray between the white and the black.
Second, each side has a small part of the other within itself. The white side has a black dot; the black side has a white dot. Rarely–if ever–do we find a pure example of one side or the other. Life generally is not absolute in any of its aspects.
The symbol has a couple other interesting features. It is a circle, the never-ending line, the repeating cycle. It also has a sense of being dynamic; it almost seems to spin on its own. Both ideas, of repeating cycles and that things are dynamic, are also core aspects of the universe.
Quite a lot wrapped up in such a simple symbol!
Pairs & Cups
Some opposing pairs are distinct opposites, but others are more like a cup that is full or empty. The first kind consists of a thing and its true opposite; for example, matter and anti-matter, female and male, north and south. ‘Cup pairs’ consist of a thing and the lack of that thing; for example, hot and cold, light and dark, heavy and light. Cold is the absence of hot, dark is the absence of light, light is the absence of heavy (weight).
Appropriately, the duality between true pairs and cup pairs is sometimes fuzzy, exactly as the symbol suggests. Left can be viewed as the absence of right (if left and right are your only choices). Likewise, east is the absence of west, and the same with north/south and up/down. But if all directions are on the table, east is not the absence of north, up or any other direction. It does remain the opposite of west.
And God help you if you ever suggest Woman is the lack of Man.
A common trait of cup pairs is that «zero» (the complete absence) is at one extreme. For example, you can assign numbers to light values, but dark is zero (zero light). Both weight and temperature have a zero at one end of the scale (zero weight, zero temperature).
On the other hand, «zero» is between opposing pairs. Between positive and negative is zero charge. Between left and right is standing still or going straight (zero in terms of going left or right). Between female and male, is neuter, which is zero in terms of sex.
This idea of ‘the zero between opposites’ is important and is the subject of the next post: Vector Thinking.
Despite the ubiquity of Yin/Yang pairs, not everything comes in pairs. Taking it up a notch, many things come in threes.
Three points define a plane and a circle on a plane. Three legs makes for a stable platform (think tripod or footstool). Some major religions have three gods (Christian: Father, Son, Holy Spirit; Hindu: Brahma, Vishnu, Shiva). We have three key branches of government (executive, legislative, judicial). Three is the smallest number of votes with no risk of a tie.
Once you go beyond three, it gets complicated. Four, for example, is just two twos, although squareness (four sides) is a basic concept found in many places. Pentagons (star fish) and hexagons (honey comb) also pop up in nature as do other numbers, but that is all food for later.
For now, think about the pairs you encounter. (Are they opposing pairs or cup pairs?) You might be surprised how many you find!