The Alien Logic of Both/And

My former colleaugue, Lish Eves taught that our western/Greek logic is based on “either/or” — we deduce things with the default that one thing will exclude the other thing. This has been a useful shortcut in, for instance, Newtonian physics, but turns out to be a real drawback in our attempts to understand quantum mechanics.

But, she said, many other non-western cultures, notably the ancient Hebrews, have a default logic that is “both/and” — this makes them appear to us illogical and incapable of reasoning when in fact it’s merely a different kind of reasoning and the only way of dealing with some truths. Einstein rejected quantum physics because he was “either/or.” But light IS both wave and particle; there are occasions where the photon/electron or whatever IS in superposition — both here and there. Jesus IS fully human and fully divine. etc. For ancient Jews, my comical example is “Your god does not exist, AND our God could beat him up with one hand tied behind his back, AND he doesn’t have hands anyway.” To us, this is funny; I’m not sure St Paul would understand why we think so.

In our lives, relationships are easier to see as both/and … most westerners can conceive of a love/hate relationship when it comes to themselves. But the extreme modernist frequently complains “How can you say God is a God of love when X Y and Z?” EITHER he is this and not that OR he is … etc.

You and I are culturally conditioned, I think, to lump things into either/or categories. Other cultures would find this arbitrary.

What I never got around to asking Lish is why it is that she thinks cultures need to be either one or the other….

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