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Zen and the Logic of the Included Middle

Zen intuition and the logical philosophy of Stephane Lupasco and Basarab Nicolescu implicitly provide parallel approaches to the resolution of existential paradoxes. This note discusses the parallels and equivalences explicitly, with the objective of improving the understanding of both.

1. Zen and Japanese Culture
Since its popularization by Daisetz T. Suzuki and his successors, the basic metaphysics of Zen Buddhism, and its expression in poetry (haiku), martial arts and the tea ceremony, has become well known in the West. The Zen stance toward life goes beyond the duality of good and evil, subject and object, mind and “no-mind”, inside and outside. In Zen intuition, a division of subject and object cannot be said to have existed. Zen is “prior to logic”, at least, prior to the kind of logic which starts from such a division.
Zen is, at the same time, anchored in experience. “While Zen teaching consists in grasping the spirit by transcending form, it unfailingly reminds us that the world in which we live is a world of particular forms, and whatever things have form necessarily embody oppositions.” Zen proposes the resolution of existential paradoxes by what might be called a formalization of intuition: satori or “Enlightenment”. As Suzuki says, “The idea is that the ultimate truth of life is to be intuitively and not conceptually grasped, and that this intuitive prehension is the foundation not only of philosophy but of all other cultural activities.”
In current occidental work on emergence, self-organization and closure, general affinities with Zen and other Buddhist thought can frequently be found. The systems scientist Stafford Beer used to say: “To be and not to be, that is the system.” However, this discourse lacks the rigorous foundation that is necessary to see the logical significance of the Zen approach.
This paper shows that such a foundation exists, namely, in the logic of the included middle, combined with the principle of dynamic opposition. These concepts were first developed by Stephane Lupasco and extended by Basarab Nicolescu by the principle of levels of Reality (cf. the last Section, Reality and the Real). With complexity, these constitute the “three pillars” of transdisciplinarity, proposed by Nicolescu as necessary for a needed new philosophy of nature in the West. The combined work of Lupasco and Nicolescu thus occupies a truly extraordinary, although unrecognized, place in the history of human thought. Whereas the Zen master gives the entire truth of a situation immediately, without any mediation of words or concepts, Lupasco and Nicolescu provide a conceptual bridge to enable a change in our attitudes without “going as far as Zen”.

2. Which Logic ?
Classical logic, as it is generally understood, is given short shrift by Suzuki: “It is a great mistake to adjust everything to the Procrustean bed of logic and a greater mistake to make logic the supreme test in the evaluation of human behavior”. “The Buddhists would tell us that logic ought to conform to life in order to be logical and not life to logic just for the sake of logic.” He talks of the need of the swordsman, for example, to resolve the logical contradiction he faces and enter a state of “no-thinking”, the better to deal spontaneously with his enemy. But Suzuki asks specifically “How can one keep the mind in this state of no-thinking when its function is to think? How can the mind be at once a mind and not-mind? How can “A” be simultaneously both “A” and “not-A”? … The question has never been presented to the Western mind, I believe, in the way that the East faces it.”
Lupasco/Nicolescu theory provides the beginning of an answer in the sense that it describes accurately the resolution of the contradiction between “A” and “not-A”. In Nicolescu’s writings, it is to be found in a state “T” at a higher (or in any case different) level of reality. This “T-state” corresponds to the “included middle (tiers inclus) T-state of Lupasco which exists at the point of dynamic equilibrium between the two limits, i.e., when both A and non-A are half-potentialized and half-actualized. (According to the Lupasco principle of dynamic opposition, every phenomenon, process or even theory, as it comes into actuality, potentializes its opposite, and vice versa, such that actualization and potentialization succeed one another continuously, driven by the energy gradients existing since the start of the universe.) The “first” T-state can, of course, be confronted with a dualistic contradiction at its level, which is resolved at another level in a state T’. As Nicolescu states it, this iterative process can continue indefinitely. “In other terms, the action of the included middle at the different levels of reality induces an open, Goedelian structure of the unity of levels of reality which implies the impossibility of a complete theory, closed in upon itself.”

3. Beyond Unity and Duality
What then are the significant ways in which Zen and the Lupasco/Nicolescu scheme are similar to, differ from and/or complement each other? (First of all, it should be clear from what follows that both rely heavily on intuition. The Lupasco/Nicolescu logic has in fact been criticized and rejected for being “intuitionist”.)
Zen, on the one hand, goes beyond unity and duality in the sense that it transcends all concepts and relies solely on experience – the expression and the experience also being considered “one”.
But if one considers “Zen” as embodying unity and “not-Zen” duality, the Lupasco/Nicolescu logic thus provides a way of resolving this implied contradiction, as Zen itself does in a self-referential manner by being beyond concepts. Note also that one cannot object to the Lupasco/Nicolescu approach by pointing to the possibility of its negation - a “not-Lupasco/Nicolescu”, since the latter reduces, as Lupasco himself has shown, to the limiting case of binary, Aristotelian logic. In fact, I believe the Lupasco/Nicolescu system is unique (and uniquely-“Zen-like”) in that it is the only one possible which includes and integrates its own contradiction.
A Zen state of “no-mind” and a Lupasco/Nicolescu T-state can be seen as complementary, in which each corresponds to a level of reality which resolves the contradiction in the other (conceptual/non-conceptual; experiential/non-experiential) as an included middle. Neither level of reality is “privileged” over the other, providing an example of the Nicolescu princiiple of the transdisciplinary “relativity” of levels of reality.

4. “Jumping out of the box”
Zen has been, of course, reflected in other Western philosophy and psychology. One example is the discussion of the “double-bind” by G. Bateson and R. D. Laing. Solving problems by “jumping out of the box” to reach new insights has become a commonplace of business management practice. However, these insights have been considered marginal, outside “real” science, philosophy and logic. Patrick Paul has written about levels of reality and the relation of Chinese tradition to occidental science and tradition. However, his approach, based on the model of the I Ching, seems somewhat removed from the immediacy of experience and energetic opposition which is at the heart of Zen and of the “T-state” of Lupasco/Nicolescu.

5. Reality and the Real
There are also some highly instructive differences in the two approaches. Suzuki says: “Both the subject and the object, the en-soi and pour-soi, cease to be things confronting and conditioning each other. And yet this could not be a state of absolute annihilation”. This is echoed by the basic refutation of Jamesian idealism by Lupasco: pure, contradictory states would either disappear or annihilate each other. Suzuki says further: “We must remember that Reality or the source of things is to the human understanding an unknown quantity, but that we can feel it in a most concrete way." However, " . . . this intuitive grasp of Reality never takes place when a world of Emptiness is assumed outside our everyday world of the senses; for these two worlds, sensual and supersensual are not separate but one.” Nicolescu distinguishes between Reality (composed of the totality of our ideas, representations, theories, etc.) and the Real, where the latter is that which inaccessible due to the limitations of our bodies and sense organs. In my view, this difference results from the advent of modern physics and cosmology and does not introduce a logical contradiction with historic Zen.

6. Poetry and Consciousness
Both Zen and the theory of Lupasco and Nicolescu are at their best in describing the functioning of the highest levels of human existence. R.H. Blyth, in his major study of Zen in both haiku and Western literature, asks us to keep firmly in mind, at the same time, the contradictory aspects of the thing described in the poem. Nicolescu’s ‘Poetic Theorems” provides a multitude of examples of poetry and the “secretly included middle” as the basis of both meaning and morality of human existence. Both approaches, in their own terms, see poetry, and art in general, as a place in which contradictions are resolved between observer and observed, active and passive, created and creator. Poetry and logic are not, do not need to be separated. There is both a logic of poetry and a poetry in logic. In Nicolescu’s work, as in Zen, the insistence on the importance of the body, especially as regards the levels of perception that correspond to levels of reality, insures that the approach does not degenerate into dry intellection.
Finally, Suzuki’s view of consciousness – “the fundamental poetic quality of consciousness in general” – also echoes the description by Lupasco of the “Psychic Universe”: “The function of human consciousness, as I see it, is to dive deeper and deeper into its source, the unconscious. And the unconscious has its strata of variable depths: biological, psychological and metaphysical. One thread runs through them, and Zen discipline consists in taking hold of it in its entirety.”
We would simply say: “Zen is, also, transdisciplinary”. It should be regarded as an ally in all transdisciplinary and transcreative work.

Joseph E. Brenner
Carlsbad, California
February 15, 2001