Harold Walsby: The Paradox Principle and Modular Systems Generally

Harold Walsby: The Paradox Principle and Modular Systems Generally

Special Announcement to Potential Subscribers:

In the first days of my Design Project a few people wrote: “This all seems most abstract. What does your Paradox Principle actually do? What are its practical consequences? Has it any concrete effects on our daily lives?”

The short answer is, Yes, it has potentiality for very practical results indeed – some immediate and personal, some not so immediate, but just as practical in the long run. They add up to three main ways, stemming from new light on the abstract design-theme common to the three, namely, that of “self-control“:

(1) through increased understanding of opposition and conflict, e.g. within oneself, or in others, or even in the arts and activities of everyday life, including one’s own thinking – this latter, being central, results in greatly increased flexibility of thought, with accompanying feelings of liberation from the constraints of past ways of rigid thinking, and therefore in greater self-control generally;

(2) through the technology of highly sophisticated control machinery (as hammers and other simple tools are extensions of our arms, etc. so complex control mechanisms are extensions of our nervous systems) machines which not only control other machines, but which control themselves to an unheard-of degree, solving problems of opposition, conflict, antagonism, contradiction and other complex control problems en route;

(3) through the study of new principles of “self-control” (in the abstract, in ourselves and in machines) leading to much-needed improvement in the human sciences, to greater know-how of our actual and potential behaviour, and therefore to the possibility of greater self-control in human affairs.

When we think of “design” we tend to think of visual design only – a narrow viewpoint. A symphony has to be designed; so does a mathematical system, a TV programme, a work-cycle, and everything else we construct. What have they all in common, design-wise? This question leads straight to the subject of “opposites” and their relations. Design is the arrangement of parts to form a whole, and there are certain arrangements which all designs have. These involve “opposition” and “contradiction” (positives, negatives, “complementaries”) also the “balance” of opposites, etc. “Balance” can be simple or complex; it has much to do with art and human psychology on the one hand, and with physic and mathematics on the other.

Since World War II we have seen the start of a big revolution in the tools we use. The typical machine before the War was of a “rigid” type: a steam engine, an automobile, a vacuum cleaner, etc. Machines have become, and are still becoming, more and more “flexible” in their behaviour – more like some animal behaviour – i.e., able to cope with the unroutine, the unexpected, but not (as yet) with the contradictory! The most “flexible” behaviour, so far as we know, is that of humans. Yet humans, on the whole, are unable to cope, positively and usefully, with that which is contradictory.

When a machine, or an animal, or a human – or, indeed, any system whatever, including any inorganic natural system – “behaves,” it is by its activity observing certain rules (laws or principles). There are principles of “rigid” and of “flexible” behavior. The dead matter we see around us behaves “rigidly”; living matter behaves more “flexibly.” What are the inherent limits upon the greatest possible flexibility of behavior or – what amounts to the same – upon the possible arrangements of design-elements?

Because Aristotle’s Principle is generally – but falsely – assumed to fix the boundary of human reason, it therefore limits the present state of scientific knowledge concerning the maximum possible flexibility of both behavior and design. The Paradox Principle releases us from this limitation, enabling behaviour and design to reach the nth degree of flexibility. Practical enough?

H.W., Grasmere, November 1966.

continue reading The Paradox Principle by Harold Walsby (1967):
Dedication | Aristotle’s Principle | The Role of Logic | Do Self-Contradictions Exist? | Three Types of Contradictions | Meaningful Self-Contradictions | Infinity and Self-Contradictions | Models for Self-Contradiction | The Paradox Principle and Applications | Appendix