Copyright (c) 1987 John Caris

We can understand the connection between opposites by using a holistic way of thinking that blends the rational and nonrational, reason and intuition. On the surface paradox poses an either-or situation that is unsolvable. We are aware of the conflicting dichotomy and often choose one side or the other. By understanding how opposites are linked together, we can move to a higher level of awareness where paradoxes are not stone walls but rather are elegant forms of expression. Consciousness of paradox increases the power of the human mind. It can be used to make changes in our cultural programing and to ind and develop hidden mental powers. It has always been a part of meditative tradition, and it is inherent in the foundation of knowledge.

Here, with due thanks to Lewis Carroll, is a story that illustrates paradox. One day a woman and her child are at the beach. The child is playing in the water while the woman is relaxing on the sand. Suddenly, a sea serpent emerges and grabs the child. The woman, jumping up and running to the water, yells, "Let my child go!" Well, the sea serpent is a philosophic type and has been to the best universities in the world. He says to the woman, "If you tell me a true statement, I'll let your child go unharmed. If, however, you tell me a false statement, I'll eat your child for dinner." The woman thinks for a moment and then answers, "You will eat my child for dinner." The sea serpent ponders the woman's statement: "Wow, I'm going to yum, yum--eat the child for dinner--but wait, if I do then the statement is true and I must release the child unharmed. Wait again! Releasing the child makes the statement false, so I will have the child for dinner!" While the sea serpent tries to resolve the dilemma, the woman runs up, grabs her child, and hurries away.

Notice the rhythm and movement which the paradox has. There is a back and forth oscillation that can imprison the mind. Look carefully at the way the paradox is constructed. It is the sea serpent who, by its action, will make the woman's statement either true or false. And of course the sea serpent is bound by its promise.

Another variant is the truth-teller and liar paradox. Assume that you are in a country where half of the inhabitants always tell the truth while the other half always lie. You come to a fork in the road where you meet a native. You do not know whether he is a truth-teller or liar, yet you want to choose the road that goes to the seaport. How do you extract correct information from him? Can you phrase a question, answered by yes or no, which will do this! Here is a clue: ask a question which will give you the correct answer whether the native is a truth-teller or liar. This type of question is useful in everyday situations when you do not know the truthfulness of others. Construct your question so that you will receive the correct answer.

Paradox is more than an interesting intellectual puzzle; it is a form of consciousness found frequently in the arts. The Mobius strip offers a provocative and strange example. Take a narrow paper band of sufficient length, give it a half twist, and connect the two ends. The two surfaces have become one. The Klein bottle, a three dimensional analogue of the Mobius strip, also has only one surface. There is no inside distinct from an outside; the inside and the outside are one and the same. Perhaps, we experience the surface first as one and then the other. Yet can't we learn to experience the surface as both simultaneously!

The Klein bottle symbolizes the transformation "of the inner and the outer." This is how the alchemical magnum opus is performed. A correspondence exists between mental activity and physical activity, between our external environment and our inner mindscape. Changes occurring in one are reflected by changes in the other.

The philosopher Kurt Godel has bequeathed a challenging gift to all of us who are moving into the twenty-first century. The gift is a paradox called the incompleteness theorem. Any rational system cannot be both complete and consistent! A complete system always contains opposites while one that eliminates contradictions is incomplete. For example, God told Adam and Eve that if they ate the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil, they would die. Yet the beguiling serpent told them that they would not die. Who was telling the truth? Also, a universe where God is dead must be incomplete, and so too one where God is alive. If we want a completely whole universe, can we accept a God who is both dead and alive?

Chapter 6 of Foundation for a New Consciousness presents an extended discussion of paradox.


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