Working for the Truth
All we have to sort the truth are symbols: words and numbers. The truth, it turns out, is paradoxical in nature only because it resists black-and-white thinking. Truth requires a full three dimensions to emerge with its power intact. Paradox is a powerful, critical concept because it works directly against either/or thinking and demands complexity and a “negative capability” for working with problems, information, and reason. Consider, for example, the philosophical claim that “there are no fixed, immutable truths.” Such a claim denies reality as something separate from us according to fixed, universal laws. The paradoxical quality of this statement, however, seems to deny truth claims by making one! We have stepped into paradox because the truth claim that there are no “fixed immutable truths” is itself a truth claim that seems, on the surface, to be all-encompassing and universally applicable. The notion of paradox breaks the binary layering of ordinary two-dimensional, black-and-white thinking because it leaves open the possibility that a problem might be understood, experienced, and resolved from a mind not trapped in binary simplifications of black and white thinking.
Paradox points to meaning by way of negation: the truth that we seek is beyond positive and negative assertions—the evidence at hand then becomes paramount to critical thinking in a paradoxical world. When John Keats wrote about “negative capability” he referred to the meta-cognitive capacities of the higher mind, that part of the mind that can step back and think about itself thinking. The mind that can practice “negative capability” is a flexible mind, creative and insightful whereas its opposite is a mind fixated on the literal, and has little facility with metaphor or analogy when reasoning. Without “negative capability,” the mind lacks the facility to reason and sort through the information continuum. Instead, charged by fear and ignorance, rigid minds that attach to, and project themselves into one side of a truth claim—over an other, “inferior” or “wrong” claim—appeal to and are seduced by superficial slogans that play on anger, resentment, and the scapegoating of others.