“You can recognize a deep truth by the feature that its opposite is also a deep truth.” — Dr. Frank Wilczek
I recently listened to physicist, Dr. Frank Wilczek, being interviewed on Krista Tippett’s luminescent radio show, On Being. During a larger conversation about the beauty of the physical world, Dr. Wilczek spoke about a particular revelation on the ‘deep truths’, as he called them, of the natural world. “You can recognize a deep truth by the feature that its opposite is also a deep truth”, he said.
One of the more accessible examples of this is how we understand that light – in physical terms – is both a particle and a wave. We have instruments that are able to prove and verify this phenomena now, but at one point not that long ago, this was a big argument among scientists. Many believed that light was either or particle or a wave, and by virtue of physical law could not be both.
We are often very slow to accept the things that confront our systematic way of organizing the world, and can be a bit too stubborn about understanding reality through our own chosen lens. Of course, logic would seem to suggest that if it’s black, it can’t also be white; if it’s night, it can’t also be day. Dr. Wilczek explained, however, that the more we know about the physical world, the more it appears that all of the deep truths seem to be recognizable by this phenomena of oppositional truths.
During the course of the interview he expanded this scientific principle into a more philosophical one:
“…sometimes it’s useful to think of [things] one way. Sometimes it’s useful to think of [things] another way. And both can be informative in different circumstances. But it’s very difficult, in fact, impossible, to apply them both at once. And I think that’s the essence of complementarity (emphasis mine). You have to view the world in different ways to do it justice, and the different ways can each be very rich, can each be internally consistent, can each have its own language and rules, but they may be mutually incompatible, and to do full justice to reality, you have to take both of them into account.”
This way of thinking is important to me, because it’s how I experience religious ideology, which I would certainly put in the category of “deep truths”.
After all, it would seem that if one religious dogma were true, then conflicting ones could not also be true. However, in my own experience of diving deeply into a variety of religious traditions, I have found that most of them to ring true, despite what would appear to be very real dogmatic conflicts on the surface.
For example: from a surface understanding of Buddhism, the Christian concept of an eternal end to human suffering through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ has no resonance. BUT, if you understand the Buddha’s awakening as a release from the subjective experience of suffering, as well as Jesus’ intention for humankind to experience that same freedom from subjective suffering (i.e. the suffering of an ego-only orientation to the world) in the here and now, then you see that these two beliefs are very much complimentary to one another.
Even within one particular religious or spiritual way of thinking, you must be able to comprehend this complimentary quality of opposing truths in order to embrace the whole of the spiritual tradition. An example from Christianity might be how the Christ figure is both fully human and fully divine. On the surface, allowing both of these to be true might suggest an internal conflict of logic, and yet the faith tradition is born from the alchemy of these two truths.
In recent years, I have found myself believing in a particular “deep truth” about religious scriptures themselves. I have decided to regard them as both fallible and infallible simultaneously. In other words: inspired by God, but written, translated and interpreted by men. This has changed the way I relate to them, and allowed me to look at them with increased skepticism and increased faith.
I now read the words in the Bible and try to discover the universal truthfulness within them, rather than taking them at face value and having to reject them with my rational sensibilities or embrace them with irrational stubbornness. I realize that thhis last phrase may offend some people of faith, which I regret, but I also stand with a conviction that faith is not strengthened by a rejection of questioning. So far in my life, all of my doubting has enhanced my belief.
There is no longer any fear in my beliefs, nor a sense of needing to defend my position.
After all, my position keeps evolving alongside the changing terrain of my experience, and my faith in Mystery only increases the more I am faced with what I cannot answer.