“If there’s nothing wrong with me…maybe there’s something wrong with the universe.”
-Dr. Beverly Crusher
The universe is strange.
I know, this isn’t exactly news. But today I’m thinking about a specific and fundamental kind of strangeness, something I’ve long noticed but never found a name for. Rather than try to describe it, I’ll give a few examples.
- In government: The best way to make people happy is not to dictate things that would make them happy, but to relinquish control and let them find happiness on their own.
- In war: You win not by raw force of arms, but by understanding the enemy, by getting deep inside their mind, grasping their tactics, their strategy, their philosophy.
- In religion: Jesus says the path to eternal life lies in surrendering selfish pride, in sacrificing and accepting sacrifice. The Buddha says that release from suffering comes from surrendering the ego.
- In writing: If you want to get a book published, you have to let go of your desire to be published – which will only be frustrated by constant rejection – and embrace the work itself.
- In logic: Rational thinking is among the most powerful tools we’ve ever discovered, but the very act of accepting rationality requires a leap of faith.
- In mathematics: Mathematicians constantly strive to prove new theorems, but Gödel has shown that any meaningful mathematical framework contains truths which can never be proven.
- In medicine: We make people immune to a virus by injecting them with it.
- In life: A lifestyle bent on pleasure-seeking ultimately makes you miserable. Pleasure comes from purpose, which comes from embracing unpleasant realities.
In every aspect of human experience, the same pattern emerges. To achieve something, we must surrender it. To defeat something, we must embrace it. No matter where you’re trying to go, the path that takes you there must somehow loop back on itself, making you walk the very opposite way you intended.
It feels almost like there’s a Möbius strip at the heart of reality, twisting everything we do into its opposite.
I’ve tried to get a handle on this phenomenon, to find a name for it. The closest I’ve come is to identify it with the Taoist concept of yin and yang. But I haven’t done enough reading on Taoism yet to know if this is really right.
Am I making any sense here? Have you encountered this kind of thing in your own experience?