As a novice in philosophy, I haven't read all the material available on the subject of duality but I find it fascinating for both its profound simplicity and for being responsible for my brain telling me THIS DOES NOT COMPUTE whenever I attempt to process it.

Anyway, here's what I know ...

Heraclitus, the weeping philosopher, is said to have viewed the world as a harmony of opposites; Empedocles, another Greek philosopher who allegedly threw himself into a volcano, built his philosophy on love and strife (two opposing forces as it were).

Now let's travel east, the mysterious orient and we meet Laozi, the founder of Taosim. This ancient Chinese philosophy has exactly the same idea - opposites in equilibrium (yin-yang).

What is it that Heraclitus, Empedocles, and Laozi are talking about. In the simplest sense, pairs such as hot-cold, light-dark, man-woman, love-hate, you get the idea. So far so good.

We now journey to Hindoostan aka India and there we encounter advaita (no two) i.e. non-duality or unity.

The floor is open for all. Please ...

  1. Comment
  2. Correct
  3. Cite resources
  4. Etc.

and help me deepen my understanding of dvaita.

Merci beaucoup mes amies.

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    Yes, Binary opposition is, according to some school of thought, a key feature of human mind/language/culture/society. See also Yin and yang as well as Daoism Commented Dec 13, 2022 at 14:47
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    Maybe useful GER Lloyd, Polarity and Analogy as well as R. Hertz, Death and the right hand. Commented Dec 13, 2022 at 15:00
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    It is curious that the tag is to Taoism, but the examples are not.
    – Boba Fit
    Commented Dec 13, 2022 at 15:15
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    You don't have to throw yourself in to a volcano, just stick with Nonduality, like your brain says.
    – Scott Rowe
    Commented Dec 13, 2022 at 16:39
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    Duality is neither one thing nor the other.
    – Boba Fit
    Commented Dec 13, 2022 at 20:01

2 Answers 2


Start with the concept of is/isn't. The human mind tends to objectify. We identify an object as an object and separate it (mentally) from the background. In other words, we walk into a room and our minds automatically snap things into focus: this is a chair, that is a table, the room is warm, everything else is not-chair, not-table, not-warm. This objectification isn't essential — an intelligent squid-like alien from Europa would not necessarily pick out a table and chair as objects, or appreciate the concept of warmth — but it is such an automatic and engrained response that we think of these things as 'ontologically real'.

But that isn't the case. Imagine, for instance, walking through the woods and finding a flat tree-stump. You can sit on it, so it might be a chair; you can put stuff on it, so it might be a table; you can admire it as an old tree stump; you can trip over it (making it a mere obstacle) or ignore it as part of the seamless natural background... It is what it is (in some trivial way), but it is also what we make of it, and it is also not what we don't make of it.

Whatever our mind constitutes as a 'thing' is necessarily separated from and opposed to everything that is not that thing. That is the act of objectification. We see a yellow patch in the sky and we say "that is the sun", but we only know it's the sun because there is a lot of sky that isn't yellow. If the entire sky were uniform yellow, we wouldn't have a sun.

The world itself is a continuity. Mountaintops and valley floors are nothing more than a momentary balance among competing forces, subject to ongoing change. Intelligent beings (humans) separate mountaintops from valley floors and think the mountaintops will always be mountaintops and the valleys will always be valleys, because they think of them as separate objects. The intelligent mind tries to create monads — single objects that exist without reference to anything else — but that merely creates the is/isn't duality out of the continuity of what is.

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    Zen saying: "In the beginning, mountains are mountains and rivers are rivers; later on, mountains are not mountains and rivers are not rivers; and still later, mountains are mountains and rivers are rivers." That middle part is what is interesting.
    – Scott Rowe
    Commented Dec 14, 2022 at 1:44
  • True, what is doesn't make sense without what isn't. There's got to be, to use a photographic term, contrast - something of interest (say x) has to stand out from the rest. My simple question (to all) is, what's the rationale for, in some cases, wanting to do away with one half of a given duality e.g. we all want a good education as opposed to a bad one? Gracias in advance.
    – Hudjefa
    Commented Dec 14, 2022 at 2:32
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    @AgentSmith: daodejing 77: "The dao is like the bending of a bow. What is high up is pulled down, what is low down is lifted up; what has surplus is reduced, what is deficient is supplemented. The way of heaven reduces those who have surpluses to supplement those who are deficient. The way of man is different: It reduces those who are deficient to offer to those who have surpluses." People want to be rid of dualities because duality entails continuity so that excesses are always ultimately reduced. Commented Dec 14, 2022 at 5:54
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    @AgentSmith: People (err... unwise people) only want more, and reject the prospect of less. The idea of duality implies opposition and threat; the idea of continuity implies responsibility and acceptance. Any unenlightened person would (metaphorically speaking) cut off half his face if doing so would give the other half eternal youth and beauty. It is the nature of craving to rot the heart of the one who craves. Commented Dec 14, 2022 at 5:58
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    @AgentSmith Quote from The Dancing Wu Li Masters: "That which is, is that which is. That which is not, is that which is." Zero depends on where you put it in your value scale: at the bottom, the middle, the top... But it is always a continuous scale.
    – Scott Rowe
    Commented Dec 14, 2022 at 10:31

A very partial answer:

In physics a duality is a pair of dissimilar sets (e.g. particles, probability waves) with one-to-one correspondence (e.g. this particle corresponds to this probability wave) on which an analogous operation (these two particles composited together is analogous to these two waves composited together) generates one-to-one correspondence of the resulting set element (this system of two particles corresponds to this superposition of waves).

Since physics is the application of formal logic to a logical universe, this narrow definition may be of some use in philosophy.

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    So we could simply say that mind and matter correspond. Problem solved!
    – Scott Rowe
    Commented Dec 14, 2022 at 1:08
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    @ScottRowe I would say that the mind (the emergent phenomenon) and the physical processes of the CNS (which might be called "matter" in a non-physics sense) might correspond in this way, although one could make an argument that mind is a subset of the "matter", not a separate set.
    – g s
    Commented Dec 14, 2022 at 3:42
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    @AgentSmith To be strictly correct: between what mathematical object takes as a particular set of related measurements as eigenvalues in one model vs in another. Strictly speaking, physics doesn't deal in physical objects, only abstract logical objects and measurements.
    – g s
    Commented Dec 14, 2022 at 3:54
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    The mathematical object and the rules that it follows are the model, the model either predicts future measurements on the basis of past measurements and is a good model, or it doesn't and is a bad model, and the theory (if you have one) is that there is a physical object in the real universe that behaves like the mathematical model.
    – g s
    Commented Dec 14, 2022 at 3:54
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    It's funny that this definition of duality is mentioned, because it is actually a narrow specialization of a much more general concept in mathematics: duality and the Lagrangian. I'll see if I can post an answer that discusses this in a bit more detail.
    – ldog
    Commented Dec 14, 2022 at 8:37

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