When yes or no is not good enough

We tend to coordinate a lot of our thought in a manner that appeals to two variables or possibilities. Left/right, Marxist/capitalist, authoritarian/libertarian, etc. This is but a crude exercise in decision making; it doesn’t help us to decide in the sense we might believe it does, rather it saves us the effort of having to think properly at all. This is a heuristic method, whereby thought it reduced to parking a car: left a bit, right a bit, left a bit more, ok great you have it. This is a crude tool, and all attempts to finesse it by finding supposed “third ways” are correctly challenged as shallow and uncommitted – though perhaps for the wrong reasons. 

To take a little from X and a little from Y, and hope to create an ideal of the two is simple pushing the original cramped binary logic to another level of narrowness. It puts us in the position of the landlord of a tiny flat responding to his renters’ complaints of a lack of space by putting up a dividing wall in the middle of the floor, and saying “Look, now you have twice the room!” This might be how our mind works, but it is not how the world works.

Realizing this, and seeing there are steps we must take, the primary temptation to avoid in seeking to remove oneself from this sphere of Noah’s epistemology where everything is done in twos, is not to fall back on comparison or analogy with the old way of doing things. Even the simple act of trying to help people to come to understand your new perspective is destructive. It undermines the entire effort. Thus, you must inhere the view you wish to communicate. When people ask the question “Is it like X?”, do not respond “well, yes and no.” Not only is this weaselly, it is wrong. The right response here is “Mu”, which is a way of saying “unask the question” (this is also a feature of Hacker thought). Even the way your interlocutor has gone about asking the question illustrates the limitations of the position.

It is not that we ascend to a more sophisticated level of analysis or thought via such an Aufhebung of previous, less nuanced worldviews. This implies that we must pass through these crude manners of interacting with the world like so many connected rooms in the wing of a great, old building. We can begin with the approach we know is better, and not waste time trying to jury-rig our broken paradigms into a clunking abortion of the barely functioning, with caveats and qualifications draining us of all cognitive vitality like so many parasitic worms. Such a jury-rig, after all, “was quite a bit weaker than the original, and the ship’s first priority was normally to steer for the nearest friendly port and get replacement masts.” Temporary fixes are not what should be defining our route, let alone our destination.


Postscript: John D. BarrowPi in the Sky: Counting, thinking and being, p. 144

Why have our minds evolved to take for granted a two-valued form of logic in which things are either true or false? Presumably they have been found to possess a greater capacity for survival when they have this structure than if they don’t because on the scale of everyday experience the world reflects this structure.

Is the binary form simply an expedient result of our environment and our interactions with it? If this is so, this does not imply that such a logic is wrong, of course not. What it does allow us to consider, however, is how the new level of complexity with which our environment confronts us might give rise to a new level of logic in our everyday lives, and not just in the realm of analysis.

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2 thoughts on “When yes or no is not good enough

  1. Pingback: Networks and philosophical style « Wetwiring

  2. Pingback: (Philosophical-Theological) Anthropology and Evil « Fencing with Kierkegaard

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