Sustaining Contradictions August 11, 2009Posted by Jill S. Schneiderman in contemplative practice, earth cycles, geology, mountain building.
Yesterday I listened to Arthur Zajonc speak about the importance of sustaining contradiction in order to cultivate a deep epistemology of mind. Zajonc, professor of physics at Amherst College and scientific coordinator for the Mind and Life dialogue with H.H. the Dalai Lama, pointed out to our faculty group who had gathered for a contemplative pedagogy conference, that we must be able to sustain contradictions for ourselves and our students if we are to have a fresh experience of an object or a phenomenon. Physicists, he said, live with the wave-particle duality while mathematicians embrace the point at infinity.
Here I add to his list of sustained contradictions in the sciences a contribution from my own discipline, geology. As Arthur spoke, I saw the peaks of the Karakoram range in Northern Pakistan, a rugged landscape near Nanga Parbat that I helped map in 1990. This dynamic region at the confluence of the Pamir, Karakoram, Hindu Kush and Himalyan ranges—known as the roof of the world—is both rising up and wearing down simultaneously. Geologists study this spectacular orogen, created by the collision between the Asian and Indian lithospheric plates beginning 60 millions years ago, in order to examine questions such as how does continental lithosphere form? How are continents assembled? How are they reworked and deformed? Breathing laboriously at the highest altitudes on earth while stepping gingerly over unstable talus slopes, geologists doing the field work physically sustain contradictions.