The language of paradox

When is a duality not a duality at all? Why do we so often see a barrier between things which are in fact the same?

I had not intended on writing another post today, but a wealth of thoughts crystallised when I came across a statement by land artist, Chris Drury on how he describes himself: “he seeks to make connections between: Nature and Culture; Inner and Outer; Microcosm and Macrocosm.”

In his book Silent Spaces, Chris offers the following words on this topic:

“The edge is the division.
What is known is always from the past.
Through knowledge the new is a reworking of the old.
The sum total of knowledge is culture.
Culture is the veil through which we describe nature.
The process of nature continues despite our analysis.
Our analysis is part of the process of nature.
The process of nature must include the actions of man
whether or not they are destructive.
Man’s description of ‘nature’ as something separate –
out of town – where the edge is the division
between ‘nature’ and ‘culture’, is an illusion.
‘Nature’ and ‘culture’ are the same thing.
There is no division.”

So I return to my initial question – why do we so quickly split ideas into black and white, only to ignore the wealth of shadows within? Why do we see ourselves as something separate when we are not? I have wondered what process creates the illusion of distinction, and from what viewpoint must we be standing in order to see beyond the pieces and glimpse the whole. Chris Durey talks more about dualities on his website, in particular around the concept of wave-particle duality, such as in Wave Particle from an exhibition in Norway in 2014.


Chris states: “In Quantum Mechanics light is composed of either particles or waves depending on how the viewer sees it at the time – this is wave-particle duality.”

As one of the few artists who can attest to having had a career in quantum mechanics, this got me thinking about how knowledge and thought drive separations of ideas. As a first-order statement, light is indeed composed of particles or waves depending on how the viewer ‘sees it’ through their active intervention in the system. But this duality, when you look beneath into the beauty of the mathematics, is not really a duality at all. Light is particle-like and wave-like at the same time. These properties co-exist but cannot be distinguished as either one or the other – until an observer looks and tries to catch the cloud. This is also true of any other fundamental particle which exists in the universe. With my physics hat on, the language we use is of wave functions, of decoherence, quantisation and localisation – all matter is reduced to pure mathematical probabilities that we will find something (such as a particle) in any given place and time. This language (that of quantum field theory) removes all paradox from an apparent duality, but is highly dependent on understanding very specific knowledge.

Does this also stand true for other dualities? Nature – culture, mind – body, inside – outside….are these all paradoxical only when we do not have the knowledge and therefore the language, to describe how these are just states of one whole system?

I had been mulling over the inside / outside question while trying to finish off the basket I made at West Dean. Another mathematical paradox came to mind….

Mobius Strip

….which was swiftly followed by a connection with the beautiful drawings of M C Escher. These have been in my mind around the ideas around place. These drawings capture impossible places – where any place is any other place. No start, no end, no distinctions – no-place?

escher3 escher2 escher1

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