The End of Binary Thinking: A New Way of Seeing the World
How to Change Your Mindset
“The earth is round and flat at the same time. This is obvious. That it is round appears indisputable; that it is flat is our common experience, also indisputable. The globe does not supersede the map; the map does not distort the globe.” — Jeanette Winterson
Homo sapiens have been on this earth for centuries, and during that time, we have developed countless systems and structures. One of the most notable systems is the binary system which led us to believe in a way that only sometimes reflects reality.
The binary system sorts things into two mutually exclusive categories, such as right or wrong, true or false, and black or white. This type of thinking has served us well in many situations, but in recent years, it’s become clear that it’s not an accurate way to understand our world.
There are an infinite number of shades of grey and an endless number of possibilities. By looking further than binary thinking, we can see the world for what it is.
Everything isn’t right or wrong, and there’s a third, fourth, or fifth option we haven’t considered before.
What is a Binary Opposition?
A binary opposition is a pair of related terms or concepts that are opposite in meaning.
Binary oppositions are a central part of Western thought. They have been used in many fields, including philosophy, literature, and science.
A binary opposition comprises two poles: good and evil, right and wrong, or black and white. These two poles are usually mutually exclusive, meaning they can only be true once. For example, something can be either good or evil, but not both.
Binary oppositions are often used to contrast two different ideas or concepts. For example, “light” and “dark” can determine day and night or happiness and sadness.
Often, binary oppositions can be considered a spectrum, with each pole representing one end of the spectrum. For example, the terms “hot” and “cold” can be thought of as a spectrum, with “hot” representing one extreme and “cold” meaning the other.
“Binary approach is an obsolete school of thought in the process of structuring human perception towards reality. True nature of the reality fits better with spectrum approach.” — Toba Beta
The Use of Binary Opposition in Western Thought
In philosophy, binary opposition is often used to contrast two different ideas or concepts. For example, the philosopher Plato used binary opposition to counter the world of Forms (which he believed was real) with the physical world (which he thought was an illusion).
The philosopher Aristotle also used binary opposition to contrast matter and form, as well as potentiality and actuality.
In literature, binary opposition is often used to create contrast and tension in a story. For example, the classic novel Frankenstein by Mary Shelley uses binary opposition to contrast the monster (seen as evil) with Victor Frankenstein (seen as good). Besides, binary opposition is often used in poetry to create rhythm and meter.
In science, binary opposition is often used to contrast two ideas or concepts. For example, binary opposition is used in biology to distinguish DNA (made up of two strands) from RNA (made up of one strand).
The Limitations of Binary Opposition
While binary opposition is a helpful tool in many situations, it also has its limitations.
One of the main limitations of binary opposition is that it often leads to oversimplification. For example, by only considering two options, we may overlook other possibilities that could be important.
Binary opposition often leads to a false dichotomy.
In this situation, two options are presented as the only possible options when other options are available. For example, some people may see the choice between capitalism and communism as a false dichotomy because other economic systems are not capitalist or communist.
Finally, binary opposition can also be used to reinforce prejudices and stereotypes. For example, we only consider two options. In that case, we should assume that there is more than one way to view a situation. This can lead to us making assumptions about people or groups of people that may need to be more accurate.
Despite its limitations, binary opposition is still valuable in many situations. When used correctly, it can help us to understand the world around us and make better decisions.
How to Change Your Mindset
Binary thinking is a form of logical fallacy caused by the assumption that there are only two possible outcomes when in reality, there are many. It can be seen as a lack of creativity and imagination.
The first step to recognizing the limitations of binary thinking is to identify it in your thoughts and behaviors. This can be done by asking yourself questions like “What if?” and “What’s another way I could think about this?”.
The second step is to change your mindset by using techniques such as visualizing what you want or changing the way you talk about it. For example, instead of saying, “I can’t do this,” say, “I can’t do this yet.”
The third step is to take action. This may mean doing something you’re afraid of or trying something new.
Despite the limitations of binary opposition, it can still be used positively.
One way to do this is by using it as a tool for critical thinking. For example, suppose you are presented with two options. In that case, you can use binary opposition to evaluate each option and determine which is more suitable.
Another way to use binary opposition is to create contrast and tension in a situation. For example, in a story, binary opposition can be used to create suspense or conflict. In poetry, it can be used to create rhythm and meter.
Finally, binary opposition can also be used to find common ground between two people or groups. For example, suppose you are debating with someone. In that case, you can use binary opposition to identify where you agree and disagree. This can help you to find common ground and reach a compromise.
Breaking Free from Binary Thinking
If you find yourself falling into binary thinking, you can do a few things to break free.
Question your assumptions. For example, if you are presented with two options and assume one is better, take a step back and question why you feel that way.
Reframe the situation. For example, if you are considering two options and feel like you have to choose one or the other, try to reframe the problem so that you have more than two options. This can be done by looking at the situation differently or considering more possible outcomes.
Be more open-minded. This means being willing to consider new ideas and ways of thinking. It also means being open to change.
Practice creative thinking. This means coming up with new ideas and solutions that are outside of the box. You can use techniques such as brainstorming or mind mapping to do this.
Take action. This may mean doing something you’re afraid of or trying something new. It’s important to remember that change is not always easy but always possible.
“human beings have a strong dramatic instinct toward binary thinking, a basic urge to divide things into two distinct groups, with nothing but an empty gap in between. We love to dichotomize. Good versus bad. Heroes versus villains. My country versus the rest. Dividing the world into two distinct sides is simple and intuitive, and also dramatic because it implies conflict, and we do it without thinking, all the time.” — Hans Rosling
What do you think?
Do you find yourself falling into binary thinking? What are some of the techniques you use to break free?
Remember, binary thinking is a form of logical fallacy caused by the assumption that there are only two possible outcomes when there are many in reality.
I’ve outlined five things you can do: question your assumptions, reframe the situation, be more open-minded, practice creative thinking, and take action.
Each step is essential in breaking free from binary thinking. I encourage you to try one or two of these techniques and see how it goes.
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BOOK OF THE WEEK
This week I recommend reading the book “Factfulness” by Hans Rosling. It’s about seeing the world more nuancedly and helps break free from binary thinking. I think you’ll find it eye-opening and very interesting!
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