Disclaimer: I am describing here something that's been my personal perception/interpretation/mode of being for many many years. I may not (probably don't) know the correct terminology, or whether this is common or otherwise, consistent or otherwise. Please be understanding.

At times, philosophy seems to be very binary in nature. You align with this or that school of thought about "reality", according to how you would answer certain questions. That's a perception and surely over-simplifies, but there doesn't seem to be much place for accepting self-admitted inconsistency.

For example, to simultaneously believe and hold that everything is real (in a sense) and nothing is real (in a sense) - and to accept both simultaneously, 100% of the time, as a working model of reality. That everything matters and nothing matters, simultaneously and truthfully. That my health or job or some aspect of my life both distresses me terribly and also doesn't bother me at all - not sequentially, and not theoretically, but actually and continually and simultaneously.

That sort of thing seems less common, or at least not so well described. But whether or not understandable by others, that is my ongoing stable self-experience.

As a result it gets difficult to explain some things about how I see the world and reality, to people. Because these are always and simultaneously true.

It's a bit like looking at one of Escher's drawings, where the item drawn is both of 2 things, not just one of them (although you can choose which to focus on, the other is still, and always, there). I'm always aware that all of these perspectives are simultaneously "real" and valid, and choose between them which to pay attention to, or which grabs my attention. But that never invalidates any other perspectives, and I can always choose to see something as important or not, transient or not, even at difficult times, and even when adopting one perspective, I'd always feel, and openly acknowledge, that others are true too.

Along with this, everything else seems to be capable of multiple perspectives the same way. Morality simultaneously matters and doesn't, death simultaneously matters and doesn't, happiness simultaneously matters and doesnt, loneliness simultaneously matters and doesn't. The loneliness I hated, the health issues that affect my life, also aren't important at all. They are real and major features in my life, and also pure self created imagined fabrications of no meaningfulness whatsoever, at the same time. I don't even know how to explain that to others, except it's so.

That's not to say some of these are choices or more pleasant - I hate loneliness, feel drawn to morality, and so on. But I do that knowing/perceiving simultaneously, that they both matter and don't, they're both real and non existent. Choice.

Another way to convey it is a bit like this: At one level X is the case, at another level Y is the case, and all levels co-exist and are equally "true". Rather than picking a single "true" perception and working model, instead choose which "level" of perception you want to adopt, based on the purposes for adopting it, and one's inclination at the time.

I am absolutely certain of it, and bedded in this perspective, to the point that I know at death, if I have awareness, it'll both matter and not matter at all. I add that to try and emphasise how profoundly this seems to be wired in me. Its been like that many years. People can change, but in this area, short of major neurological degeneration/damage, I doubt it ever will for me. But how to better label it, or categorise it?

I guess philosophically I'm closer to nondual approaches, if that means anything in the context.

I'm wondering if philosophy has a corner that this (poorly and scantily described!) kind of experience fits neatly into.


I'm wondering in a way, if choosing between different equally valid perspectives, and deciding which of simultaneous perspectives to adopt, is a bit like something we all sometimes do. It's hard to describe without trivialising and being trite, but here are a few examples of how we all seem to.do.similar:

  • Simultaneous validity of multiple potential outcomes: Joe breaks a favourite valued object in a serious accident, and is deeply upset, and then reasons that the outcome could have been much worse, and it's not that bad really compared to breaking his neck. There's a choice between "valued precious thing I'll never have again" and "Could have been worse, accidents happen, not too bad really". Both are valid views. We probably all know some people who can't get over an incident and dwell on it, and others who move on without much looking back. Both views are valid and can be chosen between. So was the loss major or minor? The answer you'll get depends which view was adopted by the person. What can we say about a person give who sees both views simultaneously and believes that both are valid? Which answer would they give?

  • Simultaneous validity of multiple temporal viewpoints: Claire is running a marathon. About 16 miles in, it's so tough, but at the same time she isn't really thinking about that. Her focus is squarely on the idea that there will be a future time in about 45 minutes where the pain will be a distant past memory. In a way, she's mentally already living there, and waiting for reality to catch up. But she could choose otherwise. Both her present pain and her future lack of pain, the current reality and its transient nature, are equally valid perspectives she could choose, even if it's pragmatically more beneficial to focus on one of them as a way to reach her personal goal.

  • Simultaneous validity of multiple value-scales: Bob is a champion footballer playing in the World Cup/Superbowl (take your pick). Clearly to him, its serious, important, crucial. Abruptly he is told his house is on fire and one of his kids may be trapped. Suddenly the sport activity is trivial, unimportant, just a game. But what it is now, is in a way what it always was, and what it was, remains what it is. Seen from different perspectives, the game is crucially important and also the game is totally trivial. The game itself hasn't changed, but the lens through which Bob sees it has been changed. The capacity to see it both ways was always there, and the capacity for both/either perceptions to be adopted always silently coexisted in and for Bob. When he hears the news, Bob becomes aware of the two perspectives coexisting in him, and consciously decides which of them (if either) he wishes to adopt. If he has any humanity he probably adopts the view that it's trivial. But he need not.

  • Even death has this scope for multiple perspectives. Don't people dying, perhaps console themselves by looking for a way to accept it (that they've had a good life, it was worth it, their life is tiny compared to existence itself, god will take them up, their family will live beyond them, or whatever it may be). By itself, that seems a tacit acknowledgement that other valid perspectives also exist, simultaneous to their present perception, and that the adopted perspective will be a matter of choice. It also implies that other coexisting and equally valid perspectives may be preferable to adopt, to the point that these other perspectives seem worth effort to search for, even if not presently apparent.

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    I call it contingent acceptance: we accept a version of reality contingently based on factors such as what is more useful, less distressing, more socially acceptable, etc. I don't think it is very unique, in fact I believe it is a normal thought pattern; what is unusual is being conscious this type of thinking, that is I think for most people this is a subconscious process.
    – christo183
    Sep 9, 2019 at 6:29
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    I see it quite the contrary @christo183. True at one level he functions contingently as we all do. But at another he says my death even is irrelevant. This is not contingent on anything (assuming verisimilitude of course) See two birds on a tree Sep 9, 2019 at 12:24
  • You might like to examine the Buddhist doctrine of 'Two Truths' or 'Worlds'. This explains the world (and what does and does not matter) much as you seem to be experiencing it. There would be an Ultimate and a Conventional truth, or way of looking at Reality, and these truths or levels of analysis would be complementary and contradictory. Perhaps you've instinctively sensed this.
    – user20253
    Sep 9, 2019 at 12:57
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    Can't imagine how two opposites can simultaneously hold without producing a synthesis (or without a see-saw). Without it, they just eat each other, neutralize, and vanish.
    – ttnphns
    Sep 9, 2019 at 20:05

6 Answers 6


Paradox is actually a key feature of any number of very different philosophical perspectives:

  • Taoism: Yin-Yang, a core concept in traditional Taoism, is all about the underlying unity of seemingly irreconcilable opposites, such as hot and cold, or light and dark.

  • Wittgenstein: Similar to your Escher example, Wittgenstein was very interested in ambiguities of perception, notably the rabbit-duck.

  • Kierkegaard: The Danish Christian mystic was a lover of religious and theological paradox. His motto, following the Afro-Roman theologian Tertullian, was "I believe because it is absurd".

  • Socrates/Plato: The early Socratic dialogues of Plato always end in irreconcilable paradoxes --leading Socrates' listeners to a state of helpless confusion called aporia. In the later dialogues, Plato uses aporia as a transitional state to a mystical apprehension of a level of reality deeper than ordinary reality, and incapable of being fully understood logically or in the language of the everyday world.

  • Zen: Similar to Plato, the Zen Buddhists use the paradoxical fables called koans as ways to shock the mind out of its ordinary lines of thinking, and into the state of direct spiritual communion with the larger universe known as enlightenment or satori.

  • Gödel: Austrian-American logician Kurt Gödel famously used paradox as an intellectual weapon against Bertrand Russell's project of reducing mathematics to logic, which he proved would inevitably contain irreconcilable contradictions.

  • I don't think Russell was out to establish limits to logic or set theory. On the contrary. It was Cantor who started by discovering Cantor's paradox around "the set of all sets" and it's cardinality. He as far as we know was blase about it. To circumvent the problem Russell formulated a putative "safe-set" — the Russell set — which turned out more glaringly paradoxical Sep 9, 2019 at 16:45
  • Er... Not really. Improves yes. But then it becomes less relevant to the q. Russell was trying to avoid paradox. He didn't delight in it. Gödel alone would be better. If you like conjoined with Turing and/or Tarski Sep 9, 2019 at 17:09
  • Looks ok now 😊. Sep 9, 2019 at 17:33

The traditional romantic English language term of "negative capability", which I believe originated with Keats' criticism of Coleridge

Keats understood Coleridge as searching for a single, higher-order truth or solution to the mysteries of the natural world. He went on to find the same fault in Dilke and Wordsworth. All these poets, he claimed, lacked objectivity and universality in their view of the human condition and the natural world. In each case, Keats found a mind which was a narrow private path, not a "thoroughfare for all thoughts". Lacking for Keats were the central and indispensable qualities requisite for flexibility and openness to the world, or what he referred to as negative capability

The wikipedia article is quite good, though the only philosophy it mentions is Zen (your particular question seems to have strong hua-yen overtones, which is a scholastic school of Buddhism that's influenced much contemporary zen), and I don't recall any contemporary Zen philosophers, e.g. from the Kyoto school, mentioning it. I understand how an orientation away from an "absolute knowledge of every truth" and toward "uncertainties, mysteries, and doubts" may help someone read and write. Whether or not that could assist philosophical thinking probably depends on whether you feel presentation and argument are separable (I believe that's anathema to some critical theorists).

So you may want to look for philosophical articles about 'negative capability', or failing that 'cognitive dissonance'.

  • That poets should have universality and objectivity I can appreciate. That Keats can level that charge at Wordsworth and Shakespeare is ludicrous. [Personal] In school I hated Keats as a poet and Chopin as a musician because I found them painfully subjective Sep 9, 2019 at 6:17
  • i thought keats was pro shakespeare, here at least? i didn't like keats much at first, either, but coleridge does end up getting stale more quickly for me @Rusi
    – user38026
    Sep 9, 2019 at 6:26

If you are authentic in your experience it reminds of J Krishnamurti (trying to) show the difference between consciousness and it's contents. I am surprised that the other responses lean towards the negative. Personally I consider it an exalted state and to be received as God's grace

Of course there's an ‘if’ there... It's absolutely easy to say "I am Jesus Christ (or Socrates)" Mysteriously stops being that easy when there are lash/sword/spear wielding Roman soldiers or the jailer carrying a conium-cup!!

The following is assuming genuineness...

Non-duality¿? Kinda-sorta...

Strictly speaking non-duality is the rejection of all separation, difference, and so the opposite of what you are describing!

Pragmatically though, non-duality invariably evokes vedantic advaita, literally the non-two-ness at the outpost of all knowing, and is very Hindu, Eastern.

My own teacher, more or less defines Hindu outlook as level-oriented thinking and so in that spirit I thought I'd collect a bunch of examples of this. The majority are Hindu but not exclusively.

I will call this

The (oriental) Principle of Relativity

“Oriental” only to distinguish from Einstein, postmodern-relativism etc. Eg this answer which uses levelled "truthiness" in movies is paradigmatic though it is unrelated to nation/geography.

Another paradigm example I like to give is the appropriate answer to...

Where am I?

The answer could range across

  • in my living room
  • in my apartment
  • in local address of city
  • in which city
  • in country

Each answer would be appropriate for one questioner and not for all others. And rarely would 8 significant digit GPS coordinates be a sensible answer even if it's the most exact!!

Levels of speech


Levels of beings

Humans → planets → gods → rishis. corresponds to

  • The realm of contingent, hard facts
  • Circumstances outside our control
  • The realm of the miraculous
  • The incomprehensible/ineffable

Levels of Worlds

Seven levels of gayatri
(poor quality explanation)

Ray of Creation

Gurdjieff formulated the Ray of Creation which integrates modern cosmogony with ancient religio-spiritual views.

Here's my answer on music-SE

Levels of Attainment

Seven knowledge stages towards perfection are variously rendered:

  1. https://www.swamij.com/upanishad-varaha-bhumikas.htm
  2. https://hinduism.stackexchange.com/questions/24294/description-of-7-bhumikas-of-pata%C3%B1jala-yoga-sutras

Levels of consciousness

The Mandukya upanishad talks of the 4 levels of consciousness Waking dream deep-sleep turiya
Note the inversion of expectation: waking is less conscious than dream etc

Kinds of love


Let me end with

A Krishnamurti anecdote

He was of course Indian but not quite Indian in his modus lecturati. And one of his anti-Indianisms was the following:

In respect of the famous vedantic dictum aham brahmasmi (I am the supreme/absolute/brahman), a statement that Hindus are very fond of mouthing, he irritably expostulated:

Oho "I am Brahman"! Have you ever seen your self in the mirror?! Selfish, petty, fearful....

At a single level this is a particularly crude instance of Johnson's kick. However Krishnamurti is implying something subtler: That the rishi can exclaim this doesn't mean we can.

  • it may help to state you mean (i assume) jiddu krishnamurti... not a bad answer, i'm not complaining at all, but i would suggest (like e.g. frank too) that you're careful to avoid falling into overly stereotyped responses
    – user38026
    Sep 9, 2019 at 7:05
  • @another_name "eg frank too" Parse error! Proper noun Frank or adjective? Also which stereotypes? I'd be interested to know!! Sep 9, 2019 at 7:10
  • Fred Davis's take on non-duality (youtube.com/channel/UC2B38VngqxrtfGMliaqZx9Q and awakeningclaritynow.com): "Everything Counts, but Nothing Matters".
    – jrw32982
    Sep 12, 2019 at 12:31

From a Skeptical POV, such as Sextus Empiricus' Pyrrhonism, that is just suspension of judgement. Like in quantum reality, in a lot of psychological reality, when you truly do not decide, you get superposition -- your mind plans for all relevant outcomes.

This is related to Freud's primary process which was elaborated into Jung's notion of self and shadow, imago and image ideal working at different layers of the self. The idea is that all unresolved forms of idea X get sorted somewhere, and somehow expressed, unless you are really decided (or making a bet). Since people have often consciously decided things and yet are undecided about them unconsciously, aspects of the self like the shadow have real input into their actions. (I have consciously decided to submit to a given authority, but at another layer I am not actually willing to submit, so I experience the confused immobility associated with some kinds of depression, so that I contribute less to the power of that authority.)

Some people consciously link these mental states and some people become aware of one or the other of them on different occasions. The Skeptics suggest the most peaceful way of existing is to be consciously undecided about most things and remain in superposition on purpose. The Jungians and related psychological perspectives counter that this is peaceful and deeply authentic, but it is not an easy way to get things done: the less of your mind you shut down or set aside, the more processing you are doing on a minute-to-minute basis.

  • Interesting! But its not about being uncommitted/undecided/reserved. Its about enduring certainty that both are true and equally valid, and equally capable of being committed to, even as one of them is chosen (for whatever reasons one chooses it).
    – Stilez
    Sep 10, 2019 at 5:44
  • @Stilez And superposition is not a model of what you claim I have assumed you meant... Yes, this is what your brain does when you are undecided. It tries to plan for all options to different degrees. Logic likes to claim we assume consistency and move between options, because that is how language tends to work best. But really we just don't. Brains are parallel machines, and planning is generally paraconsistent. We take on contradiction, except when we intend for to affect others, who force 'collapse of the superposition'. It feels like you are basically totally ignored what I said.
    – user9166
    Sep 12, 2019 at 22:26
  • The difference is about how other-directed the choice process is. Logic and language are primarily other-directed. You say things, and you are expected not to accept their opposites. But that is only because it creates social bonds. If you retain your honesty in the face of social pressure, you realize that thinking is seldom consistent. (Or at least this is the Jungian model I am expositing.) ("Other" can also be other aspects of the self.)
    – user9166
    Sep 12, 2019 at 22:31
  • I might have misunderstood your explanation then. May I try this way, with a fairly high stakes question: Is my life important? At a personal level yes, I get precisely one of it AFAIK and it feels like something not to waste or treat foolishly. At a cosmic or even historical level, it doesn't seem so, to me (butterfly effect excluded). Nothing in my existence will be significant as little as a few centuries from now, much less a few trillion years. So its also completely unimportant. And in any give situation, both those perspectives are valid ones. So I can choose whichever view I prefer,...
    – Stilez
    Sep 13, 2019 at 4:37
  • .. or whichever meets my then-purpose in choosing a view. If I need motivation the former is a useful perspective, if I need to cope with distress perhaps the latter will provide solace. But whatever/however I decide (including nothing at all), both of those will remain valid and coexisting. Therefore it seems valid to assert that seen one way it is important, seen another way it isn't. There is no multitasking, they are and will remain true (for me) at all moments, because both frames are in fact valid ways to assess my life's importance at any given moment. And similar with everything else.
    – Stilez
    Sep 13, 2019 at 4:38

The OP offers the following description of simultaneously holding contradictory positions:

For example, to simultaneously believe and hold that everything is real (in a sense) and nothing is real (in a sense) - and to accept both simultaneously, 100% of the time, as a working model of reality. That everything matters and nothing matters, simultaneously and truthfully.

The OP clarified this in a comment to @DavidBlomstrom:

This isn't multitasking, which suggests switching between different views, nor is it about believing in multiple schools of thought. Its more about believing that a seemingly simple question such as "what is true" or "what is good" or "what matters", can be answered at any given time, from multiple perspectives.

From a philosophy of mind perspective this would be a view that the mind is not a single substance. This contradicts Descartes' conviction. As Edward Feser describes this (page 26)

In knowing for certain that "I think," what I know to exist is precisely a single thinking thing - after all, "I think," not "we think."

Unlike the body which has parts, Descartes' mind does not. However, Feser mentions some evidence from psychological and neurological research suggesting that "Descartes was wrong about the mind's simplicity" such as multiple personality disorders (MPD) and patients with a severed corpus callosum. (page 27)

Such patients are claimed by some researchers to behave as if there were two people living in the same body, each controlling one half of it: for instance, one of the patient's hands will attempt slowly to stack blocks while the other moves in, as if impatiently, to stack them quickly, only to be pushed aside by the first hand. Again, it would appear that what was once a single mind has divided into two.

As a response to these interpretations, Feser writes: (page 27-8)

The reality is that it simply isn't clear that MPD cases (which are extremely rare and difficult to confirm) really are, in the first place, cases of multiple minds existing in one body. Many well-known cases of alleged MPD - such as that of "Sybil," made famous in the film of that title - have been shown to have been exaggerations or even hoaxes. "Sybil" herself has admitted that her "disorder" was more or less her own invention, that she was coaxed into believing that she had multiple personalities by therapists eager to prove that MPD was real, and that under their encouragement and in an emotionally fragile state she had manufactured and acted out various "personalities" to confirm their diagnosis.

All of the examples of indecision seem to be well explained by David Blomstrom as one mind "multi-tasking".

Feser, E. Philosophy of Mind. (2006) Oneworld.

  • Interesting. Does my last comment on the OP help at all? I think the point comes down to this: multiple ways of framing or contesting an event/awareness exist, and can be chosen between. Each frame choice would result in its own unique set of understandings/beliefs/conclusions. If the frames can logically coexist, and each be valid, the subject would be aware of multiple sets of conclusions/ beliefs/ opinions on the underlying matter, deriving from each of the possible frames they could choose. If the frames can coexist validly, then the feelings/beliefs they'd lead to, logically can ...
    – Stilez
    Sep 10, 2019 at 18:36
  • ... be perceived to.validly be coexistent as well. The subject effectively can choose any of them - which is what people do when they choose a preferred way to frame or context some event. But usually people act as if there's just one way to do that, and it takes time, acceptance or a friend or something to suggest other better contextualisation exists for the event. But if you could saw all of those different contexts (or a range of them) up front, then you'd only be able to describe the significance of an event in terms of the varying ways to take it, even if they might seem to contradict.
    – Stilez
    Sep 10, 2019 at 18:44

While not necessarily a philosophical perspective, a personality trait known as Boundaries of the Mind describes one end of the spectrum -- having thin boundaries -- as perhaps supporting the mentioned experience of accepting multiple paradigms simultaneously. The term boundaries, in this context, refers to separation of self from other or identification with particular roles or expectations. To have thinner boundaries is to be more open and hence less identified with a particular belief or division. Perhaps an extreme end exists where neither of opposing views is taken as part of one's identity. Alternate paths are seen thus not as choices to be judged, but as permutations of mental configuration, like multiple solutions to an equation.

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