Infinite Paradox


It may be difficult for us to accept the truth that the closer we come to the frontiers of human knowledge in various domains the more we approach the realm of mystery and paradox. This seems to be as true in physics as in metaphysics.

In physics we have the paradoxes of particles and waves, substances and processes, macro-cosmic relativity theory and micro-cosmic quantum theory. Of course physicists will continue to search for a Unified Theory  that will resolve the paradoxes of our current scientific models of reality, but the deeper we peer into the horizons of sub-atomic and cosmological worlds the more we are confronted by a sense of wonder, astonishment, mystery and paradox. As one scientist put it, “Reality is not stranger than we imagine; it is stranger than we can imagine.”

In the realm of metaphysics we encounter  the paradox of determinism and free will. How can both of these be true. Again, scientists and philosophers alike enjoy trying to resolve such antinomies, and sometimes a paradox may simply be something that we have not understood at a deep enough level to make coherent sense of it.

Nevertheless, it is probably both necessary and wise for us to retain the wild-card category of paradox in order to transcend the dualistic tendency of the human mind to see everything in terms of “black or white,” “true or false,” “right or wrong,” “with me or against me.”

Pluralistic thinking also allows us to transcend the limitations of dualistic thinking, but sometimes the truth is so strange that even pluralism is not adequate to explain the sense of bafflement, perplexity, irony and incommensurability that we encounter in seeking to make sense of the world.

Goethe once quipped that in matters of ethics he was a theist; in matters of art he was a pagan; in matters of science he was a naturalist; and in matters of spirit he was a pantheist. Goethe could live with paradox.

In his books, Radical Nature and Radical Knowing, Christian de Quincey sets forth the highly paradoxical speculation that the metaphysical and epistemological stances of dualism, idealism, materialism and panpsychism may each be partly right, and that it takes an extraordinary thinker to find the common reality in these uncommon views. Perhaps he is right, or perhaps there is no way to bridge the difference between these assumptive worldviews. But still, the possibility of paradox is a steady reminder that there may be, in Shakespeare’s words, “more thing in heaven and earth than are contained in our philosophy…and science.”

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Philosophical Reflections and Musings on the Great Questions of Life

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