The Power Of Paradox



Paradoxes are a real challenge to the way we are thinking. We don't like to be confronted with 'no solution' scenarios.

In 2009  neurobiologist Prof. Robert Sapolsky gave a commencement speech at Stanford University with the title ' The Uniqueness of Humans'.
After going through the research of suspects like love, compassion, creativity and consciousness that supposedly distinguish us  from our nearest genetic relatives (primates) he came to a surprising conclusion: what really sets us apart from Bonobos and Chimpanzees weren't necessarily those  aforementioned traits - although we obviously show a degree of creativity and consciousness that by far exceeds anything shown by primates. Yet according to Prof. Sapolsky  our uniqueness is defined in that we can hold a paradox, meaning: two conflicting concepts can exist at the same time in our minds. And apparently we have exclusivity on that.

Actually that is what is happening in Rinzai Zen when the master provides the student with a koan, a problem that somehow cannot be solved by rational thinking. Do we have a special talent for un-solvable problems?

How Wonderful That We Have Met With A Paradox.Now We Have Some Hope Of Making Progress.

Niels Bohr

Why would evolution provide us with an ability that many in our (western?) culture don't value at all since we shun everything that seems to exceed our restlessly calculating mind. We hate to give up, to surrender, because it feels like a loss of control.

Are we a species that needs a collective psychotherapy? That would likely cause some more of the same: who could provide such a therapy since therapists are part of the system, too?

Maybe we could turn this around and ask: what is the power of a paradox? Could it indeed work for us, even to the degree that we find something enjoyable in the challenge?

Why do we shun controversies that apparently don't have a solution?

  • our linear mind can't accept it
  • we anticipate an ongoing problem
  • we feel incapable of doing something about it
  • we are forced out from the coziness of the common denominator
  • our need to belong is challenged
  • fighting it out causes trauma, pain, and bears the next (violent) conflict already: the destructive  nature of war is not purging humanity but tossing the survivors into a sea of trauma

Why could we indeed like it?

  • our brain likes to solve problems
  • we may become aware of the inherent energy of a conflict
  • it is fulfilling to suddenly experience a surprising solution to something we tried so hard to crack but couldn't!
  • by thinking intensily about the two or more sides of a problem we may gain exhaustive knowledge of what doesn't work which will bring us closer to a solution
  • constructive conflict is at the heart of any kind of human creation: music, the arts, science, social changes
  • all 'problems', ' riddles, 'conflict', 'controversy', 'questions' basically contain their solution which is NOT their purpose: their nature is to provide the energy to evolve!
  • peace is a fruit of surrender in the face of a paradox

So who is afraid of a paradox? Here is to a good challenge!


You must be logged in to post comments in the magazine.

There are no comments in this article yet.

login - sign up

End of page. Back to page navigation.