Conditions of Uncertainty-Paradox

"At the still point of the turning world. Neither flesh nor fleshless; Neither from nor towards; at the still point, there the dance is,

But neither arrest nor movement." -T.S. Eliot


We have been exploring the conditions of uncertainty and the hidden opportunities that lay awaiting us there. This is the fourth installment, paradox.


Paradox is defined as a person, situation or thing that provides seemingly senseless or contradictory evidence that leads to a riddle. Behind the riddle is very possibly a hidden truth.


Galit Hasan-Rokeem and David Shurman are poetic in their characterization of the riddle:


"A riddle is poised on the boundary between domains, at the edge of life and death, where each issues into the other. Both are somehow contained and made present through the challenge posed by the riddling question and addressed by its solution."


It is this boundary between domains that Visionmakers understand well; the territory where the present and future touch within a field of creative tension. It is here that Vision is forged through agencies that are inexplicable. Paradox is such an agency.


Many of us cannot tolerate paradox. We see it as a bewildering obstruction that prevents us from making progress towards our goals.


A Visionmaker holds this form of uncertainty differently. To one who values the mystery and challenge presented by the riddle of paradox, it is an opportunity to enter a deeper level of perception through focused attention. Like a koan, a paradoxical riddle forces us to entertain, rather than immediately dismiss, contradictions. Perception is stretched by this task.


In Visionmaking, the purpose of a paradox is to generate enough creative tension to evoke ingenuity. Ingenuity is the capacity to be clever, original, and inventive. Ingenuity requires us to learn quickly, to think on our feet, to apply our knowledge in real time.  These qualities are essential to the life-long journey of meaning.


"How wonderful that we have met with a paradox," remarked the Nobel Prize winner for physics, Niels Bohr. "Now we have some hope of making progress." Bohr recognized the presence of paradox as a place of high potential rather than its absence. This attitude should be a guide and an inspiration to Visionmakers.


Visionmakers welcome paradox as an agent of transformation. Facing a riddle or paradox requires us to maintain openness and curiosity while we attempt to solve the challenge that it poses to us. This is the journey of mastery – the willingness to fail for as long as it takes to succeed without giving up, becoming demoralized, or allowing frustration to sabotage our commitment.


Finding that "still point where the dance is" that Eliot refers to in the opening poem is our place of solid ground. From here, we can explore the strange reality of contradiction, a reality that our ancestors wrestled with on their journey to knowledge.


Here is a riddle to get you started:


"How much dirt is in a hole two meters wide, two meters long and two meters deep?"*


The answer next time.


* From: A Brief History of the Paradox: Philosophy and the Labrynths of the Mind, by Roy Sorensen, Oxford University Press.


© Patrick O’Neill 2009. All rights reserved.

Posted on July 22, 2009 and filed under Original Vision, Uncertainty.