I read a few years ago somewhere that a hallmark of a genius is being able to hold opposites together and transcend them. This stuck with me and over time I tried to make sense of it, because at first it was a very confusing concept. With some luck this concept began to make sense thanks to a random assortment of other things I read over the years following my discovery of this tidbit.
This train of thought has now become one of my favorite things to ponder. I feel it has taught me the dangers of holding onto apparent absolutes. Once you believe in something as an absolute, you are automatically precluding yourself from believing in the opposite, which means that in some ways a part of your freedom of thought as a human being is forfeited as a result. A good example of rising above these conventional kind of thoughts constructed with absolutes is the Wave-particle duality. I love this example because it is somewhat recent and shows the possible errors in absolutes and how they can prevent you from thinking “outside the box” so to speak.
Wave-particle duality is the concept that all matter and energy exhibits both wave-like and particle-like properties. Physicists argued for a long time whether light was a wave or a particle, and their insistence on their present beliefs prevented them from realizing the possibility that light could be both at the same time. While this is a very specific example, even using abstract thought experiments seems to work as well. Take these two opposites for example:
You are nothing. You are everything.
They both hold some truth and meaning. We can say you are everything because at any given point in time you are in contact with everything in the universe. It is impossible to escape both the tangible and intangible elements of the universe, they are constantly in contact with your being in a multitude of ways. A few examples are the atoms directly touching your skin as you sit, magnetic waves and invisible light waves from the sun passing through you, etc. Through this phenomena nothing can truly separate itself from all of existence. At the same time, we are nothing. Being part of everything in some ways means you are truly nothing as an individual. The idea that we are separate from the universe is more or less a really persistent delusion that we have somehow acquired. And even if we were separate…the amount of matter that you consist of in relative scope to what an infinite universe might contain is mathematically zero.
Now I’d like to tie this line of thinking into another one….the concept and realization of knowing nothing, yet knowing everything. The Way of the Samurai calls this the trackless road, where infinite secrets appear. Once we realize how truly we are lacking we only have everything to gain. Holding onto this thought can remove all sense of both pride and humility. Without knowing anything there is nothing to be proud of, and at the same time we no longer need to feel humiliated because we have come to terms with our shortcomings. Even while we know nothing, we can know everything because the truth of every situation exists in our being.
You know nothing, You know everything.
This is why always being open to being wrong can be so powerful. You create a dynamic persona that cannot show weakness because when you truly let go of yourself, you open yourself to the universe instilling you with the most powerful type of truth. You become a fluid force that adapts to everything and anything on a whim, because your ego and preconceptions don’t get in the way. Having an ego makes people fall hard, stops them from learning the errors of their ways and stops them from shifting the next constructively critical opportunity into a new, more powerful and improved version of their being. Being overly confident with your knowledge makes us vulnerable to clinging onto something false.
Bruce Lee believed this as a core part of his fighting philosophy. I love it because I think it applies far beyond martial arts: “Be formless… shapeless, like water. If you put water into a cup, it becomes the cup. You put water into a bottle; it becomes the bottle. You put it into a teapot; it becomes the teapot. Water can flow, or it can crash. Be water, my friend..”
Knowing nothing lets us flow into everything. I’ve been in martial arts just long enough to finally allow myself to know nothing, while simultaneously using everything I know. When someone throws an attack, a completely relaxed, open and trained mind will automatically show you the paths you can take to success, all you must do is let yourself flow through these paths. In this sense the only person you are overcoming is yourself. This is where the power of rising above opposites come into play. If we know nothing, we can know everything. Whatever true knowledge we have acquired already exists outside of our being, all we need to do is let it apply itself, let it fill the void like water. Such are many things in life, letting go of some of your beliefs can set you free and give you the ability to rise above the rest. “It’s only once you’ve lost everything that you are free to do anything” Tyler, Fight Club
Take your beliefs and preconceptions, consider the opposite. Hold them both, rise above them.
- Of Einstein and entanglement: Quantum erasure deconstructs wave-particle duality (phys.org)
- Can You Be In Two Places At Once? Let’s Find Out! (wnyc.org)