Let’s explore how duality arises in the universe from all places, and how unavoidable it is. Pick any knowable phenomenon in the world. For our purposes, let’s use kindness as an example. But really, if you’d like to play along with your own example (heat, wealth, weight) what we’re going to talk about today is still going to work.
To move around in the world, to think, and to act – we must identify things about the world and understand them, such as “who is kind and who is not”. That’s why we create these conceptual categories, is to use as a basis for understanding life and making decisions.
Of course you can’t weigh kindness on a scale or give it a number. But we know that some actions are more kind, or less kind. So without a numeric scale, we still have a relative sense of it, going from hitting some on the back of the head (not kind at all) all the way up to giving a child a toy, for example.
The moment you’ve got this: you’re already stuck in a duality. There is kindness, but then there must be “not kindness”. It must be this way! If we can’t pick out the difference between kindness and something else, then we can’t even understand what kindness is!
Everything then has a shadow: an opposite which is not that concept. We might name the opposite of kindness to be meanness, or spite. With the two together, we have a kind of see-saw, with each on opposite ends. If something is kind, it can’t be mean. If a thing becomes more mean, it must be losing kindness.
In the article Duality & Seesaws, we explored this see-saw analogy at length. But it crops up everywhere, and it is deeply fundamental, because to have a concept, it must have a shadow. And if it does, there you have a duality.
Hermetic Philosophy: Principle of Polarity
From Hermetic philosophy, the principle of polarity is: Everything is dual; Everything has poles; Everything has its pair of opposites; Like and unlike are the same; Opposites are identical in nature, but different in degree; Extremes meet; All truths, are but half-truths; All paradoxes may be reconciled.
In my silly example with kindness, we derived the same, as so can see the truth of the principle of polarity. Further:
It explains that there are two poles in everything and that opposites are really only two extremes of the same thing, the difference being only in degree. An obvious example being hot and cold — both being temperature, varying only in degree. And that there is no clear crossover moment when hot stops being hot, and starts being cold and vice, versa with no absolutes on either end. The same can be said of ‘light and darkness’ ‘hard and soft’ ‘big or small’ and even ‘love and hate.’ With ‘love and hate’ there is no clear point where one emotion becomes another, or when it passes through ‘like’ ‘dislike’ or ‘indifference.’ All are merely our perceptions of the degree. And the principle of Polarity exists to explain these paradoxes.The Hermetic Revival
As you can clearly see above, Hermetic philosophy goes a step further: it’s not just that there are two poles, but they are fundamentally of the same stuff; that dualities “vary only in degree”. This works well for some things like hot/cold, love/hate, big/small and so forth. But in such cases, the things we’re talking about are all similar in that they are physical.
It gets tougher when we look at other philosophies. What about non-physical things like spirits or emotions? In Indian philosophy there are multiple schools of dualism that divide “all of the universe” into different splits. The primary split is considered to be either mind/matter, or consciousness/matter. But if it’s possible to have a spirit, that must mean that it’s possible to have not-spirit, which means that all of the intermediate states (having some spirit) must also exist, at least from a Hermetic viewpoint. Note that the principle of polarity implies all of the greys in the middle between black and white!
And if reality can be thought of as mind vs. matter — the question of “is this all the same stuff?” becomes really crucial. Should we consider that mind is just a varying degree of matter? Or that all matter is a lesser degree of mind? Oh dear. Well we know how Hermetic philosophy comes down on that one: the first Hermetic principle claims clearly that “All is Mind”.
It is possible that philosophers from other traditions are asking the wrong questions. For a duality to be “made of the same stuff, varying only in degree” does make sense, but that does not mean that any duality you construct is valid. There is, for example, no valid hot/heavy duality, because we compare completely different things. So one can simultaneously accept that dualities are “made of the same stuff”, and not accept every stated duality. This calls into question dualities like mind/matter.
Do your own work
You can’t be given the answers to these problems, you have to bring yourself into the picture and project your beliefs in order to extract meaning that works for you. For a simple point on how you can apply this to practical things in your own life, consider the dualities that rule you, and where you stand on them:
- Where are things in your life “too hot” or “too cold”?
- If something is “too hot” (for example, working too much) – what is the “stuff” this duality is made of? Is it made of need to earn money, or to be valued as a contributor?
- If something is “too cold” (a relationship for example) what is the “stuff” that the relationship is made of? What’s missing?