An essay by Contributing Editor Susan Humphreys
Science, the universe, and its component parts.
Part One: The Universe's Why, What and How:
Some visitors to this web site may have been frustrated with my previous essay about limitations of science. It is titled: "Science’s Achilles Heel: Is it really unable to explain why stuff matters?"
In that essay, I stated that Science can’t answer the most fundamental of all questions: why anything matters. I explained that Scientists don’t explain why any (one) thing matters because they understand that everything matters. If that answer isn’t satisfying, perhaps it is because we are asking the wrong question or questions!
Perhaps we should ask "why are we here"? Scientists will answer that we are here to fill a niche -- to plug a hole in the system. Again people won’t be satisfied. They will want to know what that niche is; what hole is needs to be plugged. What they really want to know is "Why are humans so different from other living things?" "What is our purpose in life? What is our purpose for being here?"
Now we are getting somewhere. "Why" questions are value-laden. And the scientist simply answers them by saying that everything has value, everything is important, everything has its niche to fill in the great scheme of things in this system we call our Universe.
"What" and "How" questions are not value-laden questions and Scientists spend their time trying to answering them. They ask: What is this? What is that? What does it do? How does it work? How do you turn this thing on or off? What is our purpose? What are we here for? What niche do we fill in this great scheme of things?
Many Scientists spend their lives simply trying to find answers to the "how" questions and give little oe no consideration to the "what" questions (other than to define something and give it a name so they can then explain the "how" questions: how it works, how it is turned on and off, how it is different.)
Ecologists are the Scientists who concern themselves with the "what niche does this fill" questions? They look at systems where every part of the system has a specific function, a unique role to play. So if you want to know "what niche do we human beings fill" you should ask an Ecologist, not a Physicist or a Chemist!
So what niche do human beings fill?
- The Religious person might answer that we are here to serve and/or praise God.
- The Ecologist in me answers we are here to serve as Mother Nature's foil, as her counterbalance, as Yin to her Yang!
"Foil," in this sense, has two meanings. First, a foil is something that makes something else look or seem better by contrast. The second meaning is to interfere with something -- as when the villain foils the hero’s plans in a movie! We sometimes foil Mother Nature's plans and sometimes she foils ours.
Someone who believes in God can substitute the word "God" in this essay wherever I use "Mother Nature."
A counterbalance is a check on someone’s or something’s power. Our intelligence is a check on Mother Nature’s destructive powers. It is our intelligence that sets us apart from other living things -- our ability to ask questions, to make connections between things (causes and effects), to think rationally and in abstract terms and concepts, etc. Our intelligence has helped us predict the weather and design treatments and vaccines and preventive measures to control disease. BUT Mother Nature is also a check on humans' destructive & creative powers -- on the fruits of our intelligence.
That is why I describe the relationship as: Humans are the Yin to Mother Nature's Yang! That is why we are here. That is our purpose for being! We provide the check, foil and counterbalance to Mother Nature's creative powers and she provides the check, foil and counterbalance to our intelligence.
We are the Yin force to Mother Nature's Yang force -- or God’s, if you believe in God's existence!
Part Two: Some isms: Noism, Monism, Dualism, Pluralism, Yin-Yang, and Essentialism:
What, some might ask, is this Yin-Yang thing all about? I’ll try to explain it.
I exchanged emails recently with a person that discussed misperceptions and misunderstanding of Yin and Yang. He sees it as dualistic and I pointed out it isn’t, Instead, the concept is complimentary.
His first argument for his viewpoint was that Yin and Yang, contain two words, not one word, proving that the concept is dualistic.
There is no single word in the English language that is a synonym for Yin and Yang. One word I thought of is "complimentarianism." BUT that word is already used in Christian doctrine. It refers to the theological position that men and women each have their place in the worldwide scheme of things. Their roles compliment each other but are essentially different. Modern feminists call this "chauvinism."
I also realized that complimentary implies a beneficial relationship. But, sometimes the Yin/Yang relationship is not beneficial to one -- and sometimes even both -- parts.
I thought of biological terms. BUT there is no single term that defines relationships that can sometimes be symbiotic (beneficial to both parties), and at other times parasitic, (beneficial to one party at the expense of the other).
The best single English word I could come up with is "essential." Thus, I chose "Essentialism." According to my dictionary if something is essential, this means that the parts are needed to make something what it is. In philosophy the idea comes from Aristotle that essential properties are those that make something what it is and without which it couldn’t be that thing. With Yin and Yang we are talking about essential properties that effect relationships between pairs of ideas.
Without one or more of the parts, you wouldn’t have that thing: Without wheels, you don’t have a car. Without the horse, the carriage is worthless, it won’t be going anywhere. The horse is an essential part of the carriage, even though they are 2 separate entities. Without a Yin force Mother Nature's (or God’s) Yang force would become self-destructive! Yin balances out the Yang.
The person I mentioned earlier also referred me to a YouTube video and said:
"It argues that yin and yang without the dot of the other in it is the root of true evil."
I replied back that I wouldn’t say it is the root of true evil. It is dualism, which has indeed caused the world lots of problems.
Sometimes a symbol can help people visualize an idea that is difficult to describe with words. I designed the Noism and Dualism symbols. And I came up with the names of Noism and Essentialism. You won’t find them listed in Wikipedia. They are my visual expression of the ideas compared to the commonly known Yin and Yang symbol and the less commonly known symbol for Monism. You will find the latter two symbols in Wikipedia.
- Noism Symbol: An all inclusive circle with no identifiable differences.
Monism Symbol: A dark circle within a light circle. One variety of Monists see the circle as encompassing all, the dark circle in the center shows there is room inside for only one idea/philosophy/religion. Those outside the center circle are welcome to join if they set aside their beliefs and accept the beliefs of those in the center. Other Monists see only themselves in the center, those outside the center are either non-existent or there to serve the one.
Dualism Symbol: note there are two boxes, separated from each other. They never touch each other. There is no gray or neutral area between them. You have to be either in one box or the other.
Pluralism: In my earlier essay "The Great Divide: Who will have a seat at the political table?," I quoted Robert P. Jones -- the author of an article "The Collapse of American Identity" 1 He said that we have split into two opposing forces: Monists and Pluralists. Pluralism is the belief that many is better than one. A Pluralism symbol could be a very BIG circle filled with lots of dots. Some would overlap; some would be touching -- side by side with no overlap; some would stand alone. There is more about this idea in my earlier essay. 2
Yin and Yang Symbol: Note that the symbol is circular, two parts curve around (embrace) each other. Note also that "dot of the other" within each wide part. Also note that there is no gray area. Each part retains its own identity. Note also that sometimes there is more of one and less of the other.
Part Three: What IS the root of evil?
Someone can be both a Monist and a Dualist. To explain these comments in further detail let’s consider the YouTube video comment that "Yin and Yang without the dot of the other in the center is the root of all evil."
Studying this question, I realized the answer lies in the use of the word "IS" as opposed to the words "ARE the roots" of evil.
The answer to the "is" question, is Monism. This is the doctrine/philosophical position that the universe (and other things by extension) can be explained by one substance, or one principle, or one answer to one problem, or one TRUE church, only ONE God, one cause of evil, one size fits all ...
In an earlier essay about "Finding meaning and purpose in a rapidly changing world" I said:
"As children we enter the world in a state of "oneness", of no boundaries, we don’t distinguish between our self and others or other parts of our environment. As we grow we begin to discover our "Me" what [Erich] Fromm calls a process of individuation."
This is taken from his book "Escape from Freedom" 3 This first state of Oneness isn’t monism. I call it Noism.
Monism develops when we discover our “Me”. If development isn’t arrested, then we go on to dualism, where we learn that there is Me and the “other”. Then, if development still isn’t arrested, we continue on to discover our “We” -- what we call Pluralism: that there are many of equal value. I wrote an essay about ”The Power of We” a year ago offering another look at this concept.
If development is arrested, OR if a person stops and then regresses, they might find themselves in a Monistic state of ME. An extreme Narcissist is in a monistic state. Small groups can also regress to a monistic state when they isolate themselves physically, intellectually, spiritually, emotionally from the rest of society. A Monistic religion believes that there is one God and only one way to worship that God. All are welcomed, their religion is for everyone, but only IF they will give up other beliefs and accept only those of the group.
The monist or monistic group, don’t acknowledge the needs of -- or sometimes in an extreme case even the presence of -- others. Everything is about what he/she or they want, or need. It’s all about her or his or their rights; there is no concern for the rights of others.
There are two dangers with Monism. One is indifference for the plight of the "other;" there is concern ONLY for one’s self or one’s group. The other is Universalism, that there are no differences among us; we are all the same, identical. The failure to recognize each person’s individual uniqueness, talents and abilities leads to the belief that one size fits all, that there is only ONE solution to problems, only ONE true Religion.
If a person progresses past the monistic state to the dualistic state and their growth and development stops there, society finds itself confronting a different set of problems -- and in extreme cases, a different form of evil. This is shown in fear and belligerence that leads to escalating violence, because the only way to erase the fear is to erase the cause of the fear-- the enemy. It is either us or them.
Dualism is the belief or philosophical position that developed from Zoroastrianism and its influence is seen in Christianity today. The world is seen as composed of opposing pairs, constantly at war with each other. This is sometimes seen as choice A: the good, right, virtuous, moral, American, patriotic, Conservative, Christian choice. There is also choice B: the bad, wrong, deviant, immoral, un-American, un-patriotic, Liberal, non-Christian choice.
There is never a third or a fourth choice. There is never any middle ground, gray area. The opponent isn’t seen as just being misguided or mistaken; they are viewed as the essence of evil. It is this what the YouTube video I mentioned earlier is pointing to: "Yin and yang without the dot of the other in it is the root of true evil." Compromise is seen as submitting to the Devil. Admitting errors in doctrines or practice would be to admit that one followed the Devil, not God.
Part Four: Yin-Yang, and Essentialism:
It is difficult to explain the concept of Essentialism and Yin-Yang to people who are thoroughly indoctrinated in dualistic thinking. Yin and Yang is an ancient symbol from Chinese philosophy that is an explanation for how the world and life work. It explains, sees, understands that pairs are essential parts of one whole, not dualistic opponents, constantly at war with each other. As I will show below, I think that early Christians grasped this idea even though they used a different language for the concept.
Sometimes these parts reinforce each other. The result can be beneficial or harmful. Sometimes the relationship is antagonistic or parasitic with one part harming the other. Sometimes the parts are intertwined, they can’t be separated, you can’t have one without the other. Sometimes one part forms a check on, counterbalances the action of the other. That is the niche Humans fill, that is our Yin, a counterbalance to Mother Nature's Yang, creative force.
An example I have used many times is the realization that in all things good there is an element that is not good. Just as in all things bad there is an element that is not bad. Something might be good for me but bad for someone else. Alternately, something might be good in the short term but have long-term negative consequences.
I now realize after my exchange with the person who I mentioned above that this needs further explanation.
Another example is that all Assets can also be Liabilities. Here you might say that wealth which is an asset (something good) can also cause a person great problems, be a liability (something bad). The reverse can be demonstrated beautifully by some blind people who have realized that their blindness, which is considered by most of society to be a liability, is also an asset because it has enabled them to develop their other senses to compensate for the one loss.
The Yang force is the Creative force. BUT it is important to note that creative force isn’t always or necessarily a positive force. Mother Nature creates destructive storms and diseases. Humans, as the counterbalance to Mother Nature's creation of a destructive force, have found ways to lessen the damage to storms -- by predicting and tracking storm systems. We have ways to counterbalance the destructive power of diseases with vaccines, treatments and preventive measures. Unfortunately, Mother Nature seems to be always one step ahead of us, creating new disease mutations to foil our efforts at disease prevention!
In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus is reported as saying "Blessed are the meek for they shall inherit the earth." 3 Westerners have had trouble grasping what he meant by this. In the Tao Te Ching there is a passage that says, I paraphrase here:
"Water, the softest of all things, overcomes rock, the hardest of all things."
When you consider the two concepts together, you are looking at a Yin and Yang relationship, about parts counterbalancing each other. For Jesus, meekness didn’t mean wimpish, or frightened, or submissive. It meant mild mannered, like the non-violent civil disobedience of Martin Luther King Jr. Mild manners counterbalance the belligerence, warlike manner of tyrants.
Seeing the Yin and Yang forces as dualistic opposites is wrong. Yang is designated as the Creative force and Yin as the Receptive force. As I already mentioned Mother Nature's creations can sometimes be destructive. And Human creations can sometimes be positive. Some example are the storm tracking systems, and treatments and preventions for diseases, and the creation of tools to make our tasks easier. Also, we have created destructive forces that rival anything Mother Nature has produced: guns, weapons, nuclear bombs. We are even able to disrupt Mother Nature's weather patterns with the burning of fossil fuels. The wild weather patterns we are now experiencing across our country are Mother Nature's attempt to counterbalance our production of Green House gases that cause her to overheat, she is trying to cool the system down!
Chinese philosophy of Yin and Yang tries to get us to look at the world in a different light: to look at consequences and options; to look at obstacles and restrictions as challenges to find new solutions; to understand that differences aren’t something to fear.
I tried to think further how else I could explain this principle of complementary and essential relationships. I thought about cooking.
- I like stews. In a good stew all the ingredients retain their own unique character, but all the flavors blend together for a pleasing taste. This is an example of "We", of Pluralism: setting aside differences to work together to produce something great. A carrot still looks and tastes like a carrot; a potato still looks and tastes like a potato; the broth created by slow cooking meat and vegetables together ties the stew together. All the parts work together while retaining their own identity and individuality.
- If I bake bread, I dump all the ingredients in a bowl, mix it up well, then knead it even more thoroughly, bake it and the resulting product doesn’t taste anything at all like it’s parts. You can no longer separate out the individual ingredients, they have totally combined together, lost their individuality and become one new identity. The bread is more akin to that initial state of oneness that we are born into, where there are no boundaries, the flour, the yeast, the eggs, no longer exist as entities. This is an example of that Noism I mentioned above.
A "Me" or monistic state would be a steak, grilled over the fire and eaten and savored without any condiments. It stands alone, needs nothing else to enhance it. And it knows it!
A Yin and Yang cooking example is seen in Chinese cuisine as Sweet and Sour pork or shrimp. Here sweet and sour are joined together in perfect harmony. You take a bite and you get both tastes at once. You can’t separate out the sweet, take a bite and get only sweet. The two tastes are intertwined and complement each other and are essential parts of the dish.
In the email exchange I had with the person that I introduced above, he mentioned some word pairs from an article in Psychology Today that he sees as being dualistic. I realized that one pair he used isn’t dualistic, they are complimentary, essential parts of one whole: Yin and Yang. You can’t have one without a bit of the other.
The word pair he mentioned is Faith and Doubt. Faith has hope of truth where there is no proof of truth. That word "hope" is the key to understanding this concept because it recognizes that there will always be doubts. Tension lies not in dualistic terms of two totally separate entities at war with each other, but because the two terms are contained within each other. Faith will always have its doubts because there is no proof of their truth. Doubt is also dependent on faith -- faith that its doubts are warranted. Where there is no proof of truth, faith and doubt will always be present, sometimes a little of one and more of the other. Alternately, they may be balanced in equal amounts of both. Where there is proof of truth there is neither faith nor doubt, there is for lack of a better word: Knowledge or Enlightenment.
Yin and Yang points out that some things that may appear on the surface to be polar opposites, when you examine them closely aren’t, they are essential parts of one whole. Again you can’t have one without the other. Understanding Yin and Yang relationships provides an answer to those essential questions all of us have, "Why does anything matter?" "Why are we here?" "What is our purpose in life?" "What niche do we fill?" "What is our reason for being?"
There is the folk saying that "power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely."
We are here to be the Yin force to Mother Nature’s Yang force. We are the counterbalance, the foil, the conscience of absolute power, with all the joys and sorrows, frustrations and delights, obligations, expectations and challenges that entails! Without us Mother Nature or God unchecked might self-destruct.
Some who believe in the absolute, unchallengeable power of God will not accept my conclusion here. They will call it utter nonsense. But I remind them there is a story in the Bible that shows that the ancient Jews had reached an understanding that righteous humans could and should challenge God’s absolute power, that they should act as his conscience as Yin to his Yang!
In the story of Sodom, Abraham argues with God about destroying the whole city in his anger. Abraham is reported to have said, "Will you indeed sweep away the righteous within the city; will you then sweep away the place and not forgive it for the fifty righteous who are in it? Far be it from you to do such a thing, to slay the righteous with the wicked, so that the righteous fare as the wicked! Far be that from you!"
Abraham served as God’s conscience, as a counterbalance, a check, a foil, a Yin force to God’s Yang force. That is why I think that we are here, to serve as the Yin force to Mother Nature’s or God’s Yang force.
Some related essays and sections on this web site that may interest you:
The following information sources were used to prepare and update the above
essay. The hyperlinks are not necessarily still active today.
Robert P. Jones, "The Collapse of American Identity," New York Times, 2017-MAY-02, at: https://www.nytimes.com/
- The author wrote: "I didn’t show a symbol for Pluralism because my artistic talents are limited."
The webmaster inserted a symbol for diversity that was downloaded from Pixabay.com as an attempt to symbolize pluralism. It was created by "Fun_loving_Cindy" to represent diversity, and is in the CC0 public domain.
Erich Fromm, "Escape from Freedom," Holt Paperbacks; (1994). It discusses why humanity cannot live with the dangers and responsibilities inherent in freedom, and may turn to authoritarianism. Available in 36 formats and editions. Read reviews or order this book safely from Amazon.com online book store
- The Sermon on the Mount can be found in the New Testament at: Matthew 5 to 7.
The story of Sodom and Gomorrah can be found in the Old Testament at Genesis 18 and 19.
How you may have arrived here:
Author: Susan Humphreys
Originally posted on: 2017-JUL-26