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Sci Tech    H4'ed 6/23/09

On Duality

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Originally posted: http://bendench.blogspot.com/2009/06/on-duality.html


What you think of as your body is itself a mind, and what you think of as your mind is itself a body. Everything is energy, and energy is everything.1 When energy patterns approach us through our senses we call them things, and when they approach us through our internal cognitive faculties we call them thoughts—but though the medium changes, they are energy patterns in both instances. The difference between thoughts and things seems to me in a certain sense to be more one of degree than type. Things are “denser” than thoughts and have more “inertia” in resisting one’s will in attempting to alter them. You can wish a chair in and out of existence in your imagination easily enough, but if you want it to exist in the external world you have to actually build it or find one that has already been built. The whole of your physical body is a living, processing, and learning system, just as your conscious mind is. The realm of your internal cognition is itself an extension—not necessarily into physical space, but still into being. And to take a page from Kant, space and time may be merely faculties of our mind through which we order our experience. Consider that a video game can generate a “space” and to a certain extent a “time” that exist only relative to itself.

As Angyal points out, the organism may be better thought of as a field of influence than a solid thing. When you eat something, when does it stop being “other” and become you? Angyal would say that it progressively becomes more and more you as your system gains autonomy over it. For my purposes I would regard everything that I influence control over to be an aspect of my body, everything I experience to be an aspect of my mind, and the guiding principles that produce me as an autonomous unit with an individual point of view to be aspects of my spirit or soul. There is action (the body), perception (the mind), and being (the soul). But to perceive is itself a type of action, and action and being—upon closer inspection—seem inseparable. The apparent difference between them may be merely a language convention based on a matter of degree.

Everything comes to us in degrees of appearance. We commonly talk about things being true or false, not because this is the most accurate way to label things, but rather because it is the most convenient. Every perspective is both true and false. It is true in that it perfectly expresses those conditions that created it, and it is false in that it fails to express the full reality of the situation. A triangle has 180 internal degrees. Always…Unless you use non-Euclidian geometry, in which case this does not apply. (My colleague Howard Tyson doesn’t like this example. He prefers the overthrow of Newtonian physics as physics proper and recommends the paper “Two Dogmas of Empiricism” by Willard Quine.) That is not to say, of course, that all perspectives are equally true and equally false. They are not. The question, however, is not whether a given proposition is true, but “how global is its truth?” All statements are metaphors, but how well does any given metaphor in question incorporate all the data that I have and all the needs I wish it to serve?

We distinguish between justice and injustice, and we say we prefer justice to injustice, but perfect justice would be the end of life. For an organism to survive, it has to decide that it considers itself to be more important than anything that might get in the way of its functioning. Were we to take harm proportionate to everything that we harm, we would not live at all. When we say we are interested in justice, we seem to mean an alliance among those forces we want to preserve against things that would threaten them.2

Likewise we distinguish between compassion and cruelty, but a desire to end all suffering, to end all harm, would be to stop all life. If you wished to do no harm, you could not breath, or move, or have an immune system. The suffering individual wants nothing more than to cease its suffering, and so it says, “I will not hurt others, because I do not wish to be hurt. I want everything to quiet down.” But great love says, “I want to hurt and to be hurt. I want to grow stronger and live forever, and I want this for all others as I want it for myself. Let our karma bind us together forever! So do I love life.”

The predator that attacks the weakest among its prey does that species a great service—and were there nothing to eat rabbits, rabbits would reproduce until they destroyed their food source. When a great tree falls, small trees benefit and grow from the added exposure to sunlight. Life balances itself and uses even destruction creatively.

Justice and compassion, to the degree that they are about opposing crime and suffering, are negative ideals. They are about countering something, rather than creating something for which a given hated thing would not be a problem. They are band-aids. They aren’t bad—they can be of great use and may even be necessary for the maintenance of society. But for them to be a group’s highest ideals would be for the group to fall into decay. Why? First, such a group would have a vested interest in maintaining the existence of crime and suffering so that it could continue to function—it has defined opposing crime and suffering as the meaning of its existence. Thus, it is constantly working against its own stated goals. Secondly, it can only at best break even. To devote all of one’s energy to stopping something is to produce nothing and to die exhausted. The desire to punish criminals (in Nietzsche’s language, the desire for revenge) is not as great as to create harmony (justice as a positive force, in the way that Nietzsche describes—the ultimate form of which is grace—in which there is such an abundance of strength that no penalty is required, because the forms of harm that are still committed are no longer a threat). Harmony is a positive. To have compassion for something because it is suffering and you hate suffering is not as great as to love something because the thing is magnificent and you want more of it.

As Confucius observed, the town worthies are the spoilers of virtue. Do not be like the man from Sung who, in trying to help his crops grow, went out and pulled on them—causing them all to die. Virtue must be cultivated and grow naturally. Or as Nietzsche said, “You are not strong enough not to feel hatred and envy. Be strong enough not to feel ashamed of them.” And if you are ashamed, do not be ashamed of that. When we deny what is, we fall deeper and deeper into neuroses. When we accept what we are as the natural expression of our circumstances—without shame—we can begin to change things to our liking and grow. Whatever you are is okay. Whatever you feel is okay. Do not be afraid. I love you. The limitation you experience is a matter of your circumstances—but you are not limitation. You are the will to limitlessness itself. Only particular things can have meaning—and you are a particular and ever expanding thing. Isn’t that wonderful? “Life itself spoke these words to me. She said, ‘Behold: I am that which must always overcome myself’” (Nietzsche). And if you are at your lowest and feel yourself to be unworthy of life and continuation, say to yourself, “I exist to give birth to a self that is worthy of life.”


As Taoism tells us, weakness and strength give birth to one another. For that reason alone, be not afraid to go under.

“Consider Cripple Shu. His chin is down by his navel. His shoulders stick up above his head. The bones at the base of his neck point to the sky. The five pipes of his spine are on top: his two thighs form ribs. Yet by sewing and washing he is able to fill his mouth; by shaking the fortune-telling sticks he earns enough to feed ten. When the authorities draft soldiers, a cripple can walk among them confidently flapping his sleeves; when they are conscripting work gangs, cripples are excused because of their infirmity. When the authorities give relief grain to the ailing a cripple gets three measures along with undles of firewood. Thus one whose form is crippled can nurture his body and live out the years Heaven grants him. Think that he could do if his virtue was crippled too!”


“You must still have chaos in you to produce a dancing star!” (Nietzsche). Every inability, insecurity, or instability is an opportunity to take things in a new untried direction and discover something more. (But let us be careful not to mistake the inability itself for being a strength, as ressentiment always does.) Between plants and animals, plants are initially superior, because they make their own food. But the need to search for food is what caused animals to develop complex sensory and later cognitive apparatuses, to their great advantage. Once dinosaurs ruled the earth as giant beasts, and mammals were small and few—but hearty. Their first form was similar to that of a possum—and like rodents, they were mean survivors. When food became scarce, dinosaurs died out because they were too big to maintain, and our hearty ancestors came to populate the earth in a myriad of forms. Once, big cats roamed the plains and terrorized our primate ancestry, but it was just that state of physical weakness in our ancestry that made the attribute of intelligence so useful and allowed for the natural selective breeding of that quality. And who is dominant now?

Likewise, the Romans were like big cats, but the Jews became industrious and eruditious precisely because they were the underclass and it was needed. The egg of Passover Seder represents how oppression makes one strong—and the Jewish people are as tough as nails. Who’s morality has dominated the West? Who became the merchants when the Christians kicked them out of the fields and the doctors, lawyers, and bankers when the Christians kicked them out of the markets? China was once the light of the world. But it closed its eyes to the rest of the world in order to maintain its autonomy (pattern of noncommitment), and thus fell into stagnation. Europe prospered in part because it was fractioned and forced to engage in war—a leading spurring force in our developing science and technology being so that we could wage better wars. The torch moved westward as ruling cultures shot up—from China, to Greece, to Rome, to many European courts, to England, and then to America.3 America has had its time in the sun, and already that sun has begun to set. China is waking again and returning to power.

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Ben Dench graduated valedictorian of his class from The Richard Stockton College of New Jersey in the Spring Semester of 2007 with a B.A. in philosophy (his graduation speech, which received high praise, is available on YouTube). He is currently (more...)
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