There are those optical illusions: a chalice cup, which also make two faces looking at each other - depending how you look at it. Is it a cup or is it two faces? It is neither and it is both.
Identity has this meaning - it refers to the essential of what a thing is. The cup-face illusion has a dual identity. It is essentially both - and again, therefore, not completely either.
A paradox has this nature. It has two faces. Two logical poles. Somehow both are true, both are the identity of the thing, and so neither can be true. It’s identity is in a constant flux.
I think of the Garden Of Eden. Adam and Eve walked naked through the garden, they knew no pain and no shame. But eating from the tree of knowledge, they learned of good and evil and so were cast out of Eden. It is interesting that what they learned had this polarity.
To think critically is to see things from many vantages. To see something not just from one’s own point of view but in a wider context. To see the tributaries of causation and influence that shape a thing.
And to think critically in this way, of one’s self, is the origin of shame, and of pride, and of envy. The higher order emotions, normative in character, above the primary feelings of anger, lust, love, attachment - who have no reason but their own. These higher order emotions see oneself in context: a relationship, romantic, intimate or social, a society, a morality. To see one’s actions with two faces. The act itself, and the moral dimension that surrounds it. Superimposed. Both the thing, and the thing unto itself.
In Eden, before the fall (i.e. the old snake and apple incident) Adam and Eve were in many ways like animals. That is they weren’t, as Sartre puts, things unto themselves. They were not critically reflective and hence, did not know shame. In that sense, they lived free of paradox.
Eating from the tree of knowledge however they gained this double sight. Things that had one face, now had many faces. Things were not just what they were, but now had extra moral dimensions that they had not seen before. Their sex organs were not just things in the world, but things with normative dimensions, things to be hidden, for shame, and so they knitted fig leaves to cover them. And while all these different dimensions and aspects constituted a thing with an identity (i.e. an apple, for example), such things were no longer singular. The apple now had other connotations and meanings beyond its physical nature. Things were what they were, but yet, were also not what they were - which is Sartre’s definition of consciousness - a thing which is what it is, but also is not what it is.
I think also of Joseph Cambell who describes metaphor as the fundamental root of all religious, mythological and spiritual experience. He has a wonderful image to describe a metaphor in comparison to a simile. He says a simile is a door which leads to some finite number of doors; whereas a metaphor is a door which leads to an infinite number. That is, one can contain a simile in words, one can define the analogy's relation concretely, but a metaphor cannot be contained in this way. It is more numerous, more mercurial than any number of words and any number of sentences. All true metaphors carry in their heart a seed of paradox. Something which cannot be resolved, cannot be made concrete and fully tangible.
Yoav Noah Harari says that all civilisations are beset by these kinds of unresolvable conflict. A contradiction at the heart of their world view. He puts forward liberalism and egalitarianism as an illustration of this. How individual freedom (i.e. liberty) will over time result in societal inequality - therefore liberalism and egalitarianism are in conflict. A contradiction at the heart of the ideology of the modern West.
And what is a contradiction after all but something with two faces at once: a paradox.
Like all paradoxes, all contradictions, these ideas can be turned over in one’s mind forever and ever. There is no end to their fertility, because there are no solutions for them.
In this way, because they cannot be held in the mind at once, paradoxes can never lose their power, their vitality. Is it any wonder then that they form basis of world religions, of mystical experience and whole civilisations?