“We think the world apart. What would it be like to think the world together?” (Parker Palmer).
“And we need to change our way of thinking if we wish to heal ourselves…which is one of the applications of yin-yang theory” (Kaare Bursell).
It is important to make a distinction between thoughts and ways of thinking that imply logic. Thoughts have content such as: “I am relaxed”, “I am strong”, “I will be successful”, “Evil cannot touch me”, etc. These examples are examples of positive thinking, in which the content of thoughts is a positive affirmation. Such affirmation can be healing, but if it becomes stressful, it may interfere with healing (see my essay on Health and Sanity of Body, Speech, and Mind).
Any content of a thought, whether positive or negative, is expressed by a way of thinking, a logic. I want to show that changing our way of thinking, that is, the logic implied in our thinking, can be healing, regardless of whether the thoughts are positive or negative.
Many people have an aversion to or dislike of logic. Yet they use logic, often without being aware of it. If they developed more awareness, they could avoid the harmful logic that is commonly used and instead use healing logic.
Our ways of thinking imply logic whether we are aware of it or not. Thus, logic is unavoidable when we think. It also seems largely unavoidable when we use language, although poetic language may at times transcend logic at least to some extent (see my essay Language transcending Logic).
Aristotle has had an enormous influence on our culture. We have been conditioned by his logic from the time we were born. Hence, we use it most of the time, although we may not be aware of it. We use it in everyday life, in many sciences, in law, in politics, even in religion. Often it is thought that there is only one kind of logic and that this logic is Aristotelian logic. This is, however, a grave mistake. There are other kinds of logic that have existed for thousands of years and that have been further developed more recently by logicians and mathematicians.
Before turning to these other kinds of logic, let me add a few more comments on our common logic. It is based on what is often referred to as the laws of thought, which played a fundamental role in Aristotle’s logic (see, for example, Edwards 1967; Arber 1964, p. 82).
These so-called laws of thought are:
1. The law of identity: A is A.
2. The law of contradiction (also called the law of noncontradiction): A is not both A and not-A.
3. The law of the excluded middle: A is either B or not-B, or “everything is either A or not-A” (Edwards 1967, p. 414).
Beyond the Laws of Thought
Although the law of identity seems unquestionable, it is not. For example, I am I, according to this law. But I am also the Universe. Some mystics have said: I am God. Such statements are based on subjective experience, but they are also compatible with objective scientific evidence (see, e.g., Hollick 2006).
Similarly, the law of contradiction can be questioned. I can be I (in the usual restrictive sense), but I can also be the Universe, which is not-I (in the usual sense). Hence, I can be not-I and I.
The law of the excluded middle is also very questionable. For example, according to this law a man would be good or not good. It is, however, obvious that most men, if not all, are intermediate between good and not good. They may be very close to good so that for practical reasons they may be considered good, or they may be more or less removed from good.
In the following essays I shall give more examples that illustrate the questionable status of the above laws of thought. I will not conclude that these laws are useless. But I want to point out their limited usefulness. If they are taken for granted and used exclusively as is often the case, they may become harmful to the individual, society, and the planet.
Logicians have known for a long time that the so-called laws of thought are limited “because no viable system of logic can be constructed in which the principles of identity, contradiction, and excluded middle would be the only axioms (Edwards 1967, Vol. 4, p. 414).
However, the general public and even the majority of scientists have remained unaware of this limitation and its harmful consequences.
Alternatives to the so-called laws of thought have been available for millennia. In ancient China the Daoists developed Yin-Yang thinking. Figure 1 illustrates the difference between Yin-Yang thinking and Aristotelian thinking based on the laws of thought.
Figure 1. The square to the left illustrates Aristotelian thinking based on the laws of thought, the Yin-Yang symbol to the right, Yin-Yang thinking.
If we call the black portion of the square A, then A is A (the law of identity) and A is not not-A, the white portion (the law of contradiction). And if we refer to the whole square, then everything is either black or white (A or B, which is not-A).
In contrast, in the Yin-Yang symbol, Yang, the black area, includes Yin, the white dot. Therefore, if we call the black half again A, A is A and not A (which negates the laws of identity and contradiction). We also see that Yang gradually merges with Yin and vice versa, which indicates fuzziness: something may be Yang or Yin, A or B, to various degrees (which negates the law of the excluded middle).
Figure 1 illustrates why Aristotelian logic based on the so-called laws of thought can be harmful, whereas Yin-Yang thinking can be healing. The laws of thought cut reality into pieces, into opposites that are disconnected and may become antagonistic and destructive. They create wounds. Yin and Yang are also opposites, but they are connected. Through this connection they can heal the split that has been created by the laws of thought.
For example, if I say, “I am good and you are bad” and this is understood in terms of the laws of thought, as it is typical in our culture, I create a disconnection that may lead to antagonism, conflict, and harm. If, however, I look at this situation in terms of Yin-Yang, I understand that I am also bad and you are also good, and in this way we are connected in spite of our opposition. And this connection heals the wound that has been created by the cut through the laws of thought. Hermann Hesse, in his Siddhartha, understood this situation very well when he wrote: “But the world itself, being in and around us, is never one-sided. Never is a man or a deed wholly Samsara or wholly Nirvana; never is a man wholly a saint or a sinner (Hesse 1951, p. 113).
Besides Yin-Yang thinking, Buddhist and Jain logic also transcend our common logic based on the so-called laws of thought (see my essay on Healing Thinking through Both/and Logic, Buddhist and Jain Logic).
During the 20th century logicians developed sophisticated ways of thinking such as fuzzy logic and both/and logic (see, e.g., Kosko 1993). These ways of thinking transcend the laws of the excluded middle and contradiction (see my essays on Healing Thinking through Fuzzy Logic and Healing Thinking through Both/and Logic, Buddhist and Jain Logic). Korzybski elaborated non-Aristotelian thinking that is based on non-identity (see my essay on Healing Thinking through Non-Identity (Korzybski)).
All of these logical innovations could greatly contribute to the healing of wounds of our planet, society, and us. But unfortunately they are barely known even among scientists, and to the extent they are known, they are not much appreciated and not much practiced. However, they have the potential to transform the world, as I will try to show in the following essays.
Healing thinking is holistic thinking and holy thinking. It is holistic because it transcends the fragmentation and distortion inherent in Aristotelian logic based on the so-called laws of thought. It is holy, sacred, because it points beyond the namable to the unnamable (see the following essays and my essay Beyond Thinking, Writing, and Speaking - the Unnamable).
Logic structures thought and relates thoughts to one another. In our culture the commonly used logic is Aristotelian logic that is predominantly based on the so-called laws of thought of identity, contradiction, and the excluded middle. Exclusive reliance on these so-called laws can have harmful consequences. Therefore, this kind of thinking is potentially harmful thinking. It is widespread in our society that often takes the laws of thought for granted. Although it includes these laws, healing thinking (that is, healing ways of thinking or healing logic), transcends them. Thus, Yin-Yang, Jain and Buddhist logic include and transcend the so-called laws of thought. Fuzzy logic includes and transcends the law of the excluded middle. Both/and logic and the principle of complementarity go beyond the law of contradiction. And non-identity (that has been much emphasized by Korzybski) surpasses the law of identity. Healing ways of thinking heal the wounds inflicted by Aristotelian thinking, specifically by the exclusive reliance on the so-called laws of thought, because they connect what has been torn apart by these laws.
Arber, A. 1964. The Mind and the Eye. Cambridge University Press.
Edwards, P. (ed.) 1967.The Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Vol. 4, pp. 414-417. New York: Macmillan.
Hesse, H. 1951. Siddhartha. New York: New Directions Publishing Company.
Hollick, M. 2006. The Science of Oneness. A Worldview for the Twenty-first Century. Winchester: O Books.
Kosko, B. 1993. Fuzzy Thinking.The New Science of Fuzzy Logic. New York: Hyperion.