Moral Duality

Sometimes two ideas appear to be in conflict.

And not just two ideas held by two different people with wildly different backgrounds and life experience. Sometimes one’s own ideas don’t quite line up with each other.

I may be tired of the rain, but glad there’s not a drought. I may wish I had fight instinct when I actually had a flight instinct…or vice versa. I may crave other’s approval, but be determined to be myself – unmoved by what other people think. I may hold freedom in the highest esteem, but be willing to curtail my own and other’s freedom to things that would cause harm.

Life is complicated, and context is everything.

One of my favorite metaphors is light. Going back at least as far as the Greeks, there have been arguments over whether light is a particle or a wave. Aristotle envisioned light as a disturbance of air – a wave, while Democritus argued for discrete particles.

Experiments in the 19th and early 20th century provided conflicting results. Sometimes light acted like a particle and sometimes it acted as wave. Eventually, physicists pieced together an understanding of electromagnetism that explained how it was both a particle and a wave.

But wave-particle duality is no metaphor. It’s not just light that exhibits this duality – it is all matter. All matter. Everything. I am a particle and wave.

The metaphor, of course, is saying there is a duality. We understand waves and we understand particles, so while it may be confusing and complicated to say there’s a duality…that’s still easier than really understanding some third thing, just outside our mental grasp, that behaves like a particle and behaves like a wave.

I go on this tangent about wave-particle duality, because if all matter has this duality, isn’t reasonable to assume that ideas have a certain duality, or perhaps multi-ality, to them as well?

We think of morals as fixed, concrete things – perhaps with some flexibility or fluid properties – but essentially as particles, as discrete quanta that can be somehow measured and defined.

But if we look closer, perhaps we’ll see the wave interference patterns. We’ll see the seemingly inexplicable conflicts that make sense in our own minds, though we can’t begin to articulate it to others.

Perhaps if we look closer we’ll discover our own duality and embrace this so-called conflict. Not everything can be neatly defined as a particle. Sometimes, we must recognize the wave.


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