Essay: Human Society:



The Role of Opposites in Nature

and in Human Society


by Professor S.A. Paipetis

Department of Mechanical Engineering & Aeronautics, University of Patras

Patras, Greece


and Ms. O. Georgiadou

Department for Civil Protection of Greece

Athens, Greece


Without contraries is no progression.

Attraction and repulsion, reason and energy, love and hate,

are necessary to human existence.


-         William Blake: The Marriage of Heaven and Hell



The world appears to be an arena, where numberless pairs of composites are constantly in conflict with each other. From the point of view of Physics, every conflict, or any event happening, is just flow of energy (and/or matter) from a higher level to a lower one. But for human thought, the world is indeed dominated by an incessant war between anthropomorphic entities, and this gives rise to the endless series of dualistic religions and philosophies that govern human life. Man’s subjective approach to a basically simple natural operation is due to the fact that, if energy flowing between opposites passes through him and because of his limited physical abilities, man feels threatened and is seeking for metaphysical remedies.


1.     Introduction

Countless pairs of opposites seem to dominate the world. They are not all of the same nature. Many of them express geometrical positions (low-high) or areas or directions in space (up-down, left-right) with one or more dimensions, and others moments or periods in time (day-night). Others have energy character (hot-cold) or complement each other (male-female). However, they all have a common characteristic: They are not necessary just for the human existence, as William Blake states, but they are indispensable for the operation of nature, for the operation of the world. In fact, quite often, one of the two elements of the pair is not the opposite of the other, but simply one means absence of the other (light-darkness etc.) Therefore, it becomes clear how their interaction sets the world in motion and eventually creates life in the world.


Further analysis reveals a second common property of the opposites: In all pairs, directly or indirectly, the notion of energy is involved. In other words, in nature, the opposites interact through energy flow from one element of the pair to the other, providing a proper definition for the concept of event: An event is an (instantaneous) flow of energy from a higher level to a lower level.


One third common property of the pairs of opposites is their relative or subjective character, depending on the particular being considered: Namely, when using the expression hot-cold, one must specify how hot is hot and how cold is cold, as well as what must be the temperature difference between the two extremes to be worth the title of “pair of opposites”. However, the latter is widely different among various beings, whether humans or animals. For example, in this country, one considers the atmosphere “unbearably cold” at 0οC and “unbearably hot” at 38οC. For a polar bear, -3οC is unbearably hot, but feels very comfortable at -30οC or even lower, e.g. within temperature zones clearly beyond the limits of human survival.


In nature nothing is constant, permanent or immutable. Since everything interacts ceaselessly with everything else, new entities are created, which, in turn, interact with everything else etc. and all these end up to a vast world, infinitely complex, which, in essence, is the product of a very simple process: The flow of energy (or matter) from one body to another or from a higher level to a lower one, like: Thermal energy from a hot body to a cold one, hydraulic energy (i.e. water) from a high place to a lower, light energy from a luminous body to a dark one etc. Man calls these limits opposites or contraries.


This characterization constitutes a highly subjective approach: Nature would have no reason to call opposites some minutely differing temperatures. However, for man, as limits of his body temperature, makes the difference between life and death. Neither would nature call silence the frequency ranges outside the hearing zone of man, neither darkness the regions of electromagnetic spectrum within which man cannot see.


2.     The 2nd Law of Thermodynamics

The above definition of event stems from the 2nd Law of Thermodynamics, stating that heat does not flow spontaneously from a colder region to a hotter region, or, equivalently, heat at a given temperature cannot be converted entirely into work. Therefore, the entropy of a closed system (or energy per unit temperature), increases over time toward some maximum value, e.g. it tends toward an equilibrium state in which no energy is available to do useful work and no events whatsoever can take place.


3.     Human senses and conditions of survival

However, despite his extraordinary gifts, man remains a very delicate creature, capable of surviving within very narrow limits of numerous natural parameters. Beyond these limits, higher or lower respectively, man feels threatened and, therefore, conceives these limits as opposites, in fact as conflicting entities between which he is located and, therefore, he must struggle to survive.


In particular, from the vast temperature ranges prevailing in the Universe (from almost absolute zero or -273οC till 5,000-6,000οC of the sun and 25,000οC of hotter stars), man can survive in a very narrow zone of 12-42οC of his body, while he cannot stand accelerations exceeding the 9-fold of the acceleration of gravity, and he is especially delicate against cranial injuries.


Moreover, man can hear in a very narrow zone of acoustic frequencies of 20-20,000 Hertz [1], while most animals can hear in much broader frequency ranges. Sounds of frequency higher than 20,000 Hz, termed as supersonic or even ultrasonic, reaching frequencies of many millions Hz [2] are generated in many cases by natural phenomena:


For example, with materials loaded near fracture or with geological structures growing unstable by an imminent earthquake, the so-called acoustic emissions are created. This explains the restlessness of some animals with their acoustic organs very close to the ground, such as rats and snakes. The fact was used at least once for the successful prediction of an earthquake [3].


Man can see in the range 0.4-0.9x1015 Hz [4] of the electromagnetic spectrum, where the upper limit corresponds to the violet color and the lower to the red color. Below red lies the infrared (thermal) radiation, while above violet the ultraviolet radiation. Just for comparison, radar and microwaves frequencies lie in the range of 0.6-1.4x1010 Hz and ultraviolet radiation in 1.0-1.4x1015 Hz etc., while many animals can see in a very broad spectrum of optical frequencies. etc. Some of them, like bats, are equipped with ultrasonic radars, allowing them to fly comfortably even in absolute darkness.


However, thanks to his technological achievements, man can gain access in areas inaccessible by his senses. For example by infrared detectors, man can “see” in the darkness or detect the “thermal profile” of objects.


Furthermore, man can detect and measure nuclear radiation, for which he does not possess sensing organs, while by means of sophisticated instrumentation, man can perform measurements, otherwise incredible only a few years ago. Man can even survive in the extreme conditions of space protected by a special suit, protecting him from vacuum, extremely low temperature and the deadly radiations of the extraterrestrial areas, in fact by allowing him to carry his own natural environment in space. Despite all these, man’s dual way of thinking has not changed in the least.


4.     Dualism or Duality

The phenomenal conflict between opposites in nature led the man, by using various mental tools and advanced symbolism, to create an endless numbers of fictitious entities, mostly anthropomorphic and respective religious and philosophical systems.


The term “Dualism” refers to any doctrine or philosophical teaching admitting that in the Universe there are two fundamental conflicting principles, out of which one cannot be reduced to the other and their interaction has created everything existing in the world. Dualism can be considered the opposite of Monism, maintaining that the world consists of one single principle, for example mind or mater. Moreover, it is the opposite of monotheism and of the various pluralisms or polytheisms, which maintain many principles or powers acting simultaneously on the world. Dividing lines between one, two or many are not strictly clear, since there are monotheistic or monistic or polytheistic religions, which include dualistic elements. Another important distinction is dialectic and eschatological dualism. In the course of history, numerous religions and heresies, including Christian ones, have been based on dualistic ideas.


Dualistic principles are expressed in many myths and religious beliefs of the ancient Greeks, for example, in the Orphic cosmogony, where the second Dionysus, Dionysus Zagreus, is murdered by the Titans and eventually devoured by them. In Hesiod’s Theogony (c. 700 BC) and in the myths of gods Uranus, Saturn and Zeus, a conflict appears between primordial and later gods.


Dualism is even more prominent in the classical antiquity. Many pre-Socratic philosophers (6th-5th cent. BC) expressed dualistic views in various ways.


The philosophical principles of Heraclitus illustrated the world as a fiery change, the conflict of opposites (cold-hot, day-night, beginning-end etc.) which Heraclitus called πόλεμος (war) and which was raised to the level of a metaphysical principle.


Although these opposites were partial dyads or pairs, their result was dualistic. At his point, one should note the famous dictums of Heraclitus: “Everything flows” and “You cannot enter the same river twice”, expressing the perpetual change of the world and also “War is the father of all” denoting, in the above sense, that whatever exists in the world, stems from the conflict – or the interaction – of certain opposites.


Dualistic ideas, similar to those of the Orphics and the Pythagoreans, can be found in the books of Plato (428–348/347 BC), such as Timaeus, Phaedon, Gorgias, Cratylus. In later philosophy, dualism is expressed by René Descartes or Cartesius [5]. The latter was closely attached to the Roman-Catholic church and a proponent of the existence of God, who created the Universe and two irreconcilable principles, one physical and one mental, constituting together all realities. The separation of reality into two substances, known as Cartesian Dualism, affected the western philosophy very deeply.


5.     Conclusions

A fundamental law of nature, responsible for everything happening in nature and, therefore, for its perpetual change and for the existence of time (in fact of the ‘arrow of time”), was mistreated, deformed and misinterpreted by man. This was obtained by the synergy of great figures of the spirit and science and by the use of all kinds of mental tools available, such as myths, symbols, art, music, drama etc., along with anthropomorphism, an advanced form of symbolism. As a result, the world is “full” of endless fictitious entities, simply corresponding to the infinite interactions between fictitious numbers of opposites, which, however, dominate the life of humans through the various religious, spiritual, social, political etc. systems and are responsible for wars, famines and eventually for the final destruction of human environment and life itself.




[1] Hertz (Hz) is frequency unit corresponding to 1 cycle per second.


[2] Supersonic microscopy is using frequencies higher than 100 million Hz.


[3] R.B. Schall, An Evaluation of the Animal-behavior Theory for Earthquake Prediction, 1988, California Geology, vol. 41, No. 2, p. 41-45.


[4] 1015 correspond to 1 followed by 15 zeroes.


[5] Lt. Renatius Cartesius, French mathematician, scientist and philosopher, was the first to oppose Aristotelic scholasticism, and for this reason he was named the father of contemporary philosophy. He started by systematically doubting knowledge based on authenticity, the senses and on logic and, in the sequence grew certain that, when he is thinking, he exits (cogito, ergo sum). He created a dualistic system, based on the fundamental distinction between mind, whose essence is thought, and matter, whose essence extends to three dimensions. Decart’s metaphysical system is based on intuition, created by ideas inherent in man, such as his physics and physiology, based on the senses and is mechanistic and empirical.



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