Archive for the ‘alchemy’ Category

The Marriage of Opposites, Part 2

February 21, 2017

sq_menageMy last post made me realize that I had written about six-fold things several times before. The first time was about Richard McKeon’s Aspects of Knowing, the second was about Vaughn Pratt’s Duality of Information and Time, and now we have Edward de Bono’s Six Thinking Hats.

For each of these schema, three pairs of opposites can be shown on the edges of a tetrahedron. I have previously written about the Alchemical Marriage of Opposites, where I imagined two pairs of opposites being in a fourfold. With this new common design, I see that three pairs of opposites can label the vertices of a tetrahedron. In fact, this may be at least as common as double dualities, and I have found several triple dualities to write about in the near future.

In algebraic notation this triple marriage of opposites yields:

(A + A’)(B + B’)(C + C’) = (ABC + A’B’C’) + (AB’C’ + A’BC) + (A’BC’ + AB’C) + (A’B’C + ABC’)

I might even call this diagram a “Ménage of Opposites”, but ménage of course merely means household. Appropriate, nonetheless.



The Marriage of Opposites

August 29, 2015

sq_marriageThe road up and the road down are the same thing.

— Heraclitus

The Marriage of Opposites, or Chemical Wedding, or Coniunctio Oppositorum, is a term from alchemy that means combining two opposite substances, or essences, or even ideas into a unity greater than the sum of its parts. This term has also meaning in Jungian psychology as Jung showed many parallels between the processes of self-understanding and alchemy. For example, the marriage of opposites is symbolized by the union of the Animus and Anima.

Opposites are everywhere in our everyday lives and language. They are also prevalent in our social institutions such as religion, politics, philosophy, and science. There are long lists of opposites of life and language and institutions: spatial, temporal, relative, linguistic, mathematical, social, normative, philosophical, and mythological.

A + A’ = ?

What does it mean to combine two opposites into one? Does it mean that the two things are no longer extant and only the combination remains, or that the thing is its own opposite (e.g. 1 + -1 = 1)? Does it mean that a new, third thing is now created that incorporates both of the originals but they still exist as well, like Hegel’s thesis, anti-thesis, synthesis (e.g. 1 + -1 = 3)? Or does it mean that the originals annihilate each other, and nothing remains (e.g. 1 + -1 = 0)?

Usually the casual causal combination of opposites leads to an averaging of the two. For example if hot and cold liquids are combined, soon you will just get a tepid mixture. This is entropy, where the difference between the hot and the cold material is soon eliminated by the blending of the parts, and in this case actually fueled by the energy of the hot molecules.

The usual meaning of this Chemical Wedding is rather esoteric or mysterious. I propose that what the term “marriage of opposites” really means is quite different. Each “opposite” is an opposing pair itself, so that the marriage is between two pairs instead of two things. Instead of a unity, I suggest that this is the root of multiplicity. Instead of simplicity, there obtains organized complexity. Two pairs of two things yields four things in many ways: 2 + 2 = 2 * 2 = 2 ^ 2 = 4.

Let A and A’ be a pair of opposites, as well as B and B’. Then we can consider a union between those pairs to be:

(A + A’)(B + B’) = AB + AB’ + A’B + A’B’

Our individual genetic material is really a marriage of opposites in that half of it comes from each of our parents. Like Mendel’s peas, the sexual union generates the possibility of four versions of each feature. Similarly, the combination between two pairs of opposites generates a fourfold of possibilities.

How should one arrange such a union on a diagram? In Aristotle’s Square of Opposition, the true opposites are at opposite corners of a square, the “contradictories” (one is true and one is false). There are also “contraries” (cannot both be true), “subcontraries” (cannot both be false) and “subaltern” (only one implies the other) relations between corners. But the square is built from the logic of quantifiers and properties, different from this fourfold.

They can be arranged as the cycle AB + AB’ + A’B’ + A’B: One can naturally consider AB and A’B’ to be opposites, as well as AB’ and A’B. One can start with the two opposite pairs crossed, and this cycle sequence arises simply between them. Also, one nice feature is that only one of A or B needs to be changed to its opposite as we move around the cycle, even as we return to the beginning of the sequence. This is called a “gray code” in terms of binary numerals.sq_marriage2

They can be arranged as the grid AB + AB’+ A’B + A’B’: Here the opposites fall across a diagonal that runs southwest to northeast. This doesn’t have the nice properties of the cycle above, but I have used it for many of my diagrams. Instead of a cyclic symmetry, we have a dynamic symmetry about this diagonal that runs from an imagined origin of separation towards greater mixing and combination. This is the usual binary numerical sequence.



Interestingly, while thinking about the next stage in the 2 + 2, 2 * 2, 2 ^ 2, … series, I found that the superexponential or exponential tower operation is called “tetration”. In fact, Tetration( 2, 2) = 4 as well.

Also, consider “Mirage of Opposites”!



The Fourfold Democritus

May 4, 2015

sq_fourfold_democritusOld Democritus under a tree,
Sittes on a stone with booke on knee;
About him hang there many features,
Of Cattes Dogges, and such-like creatures,
Of which he makes Anatomy,
The seat of black choler to see.
Over his head appears the skye,
And Saturne Lord of Melancholy.

— From Robert Burton’s Anatomy of Melancholy

Truth lies at the bottom of a well.

— Democritus


Christoph Luthy / The Fourfold Democritus on the Stage of Early Modern Science
Isis, Vol. 91, No. 3 (Sep., 2000), pp. 443-479
The University of Chicago Press on behalf of The History of Science Society



A Four-fold Riddle

February 19, 2015

sq_roses_dogs_stars_stonesA rose I give to you
This rose so fresh with fragrance rare,
Its petals bringing joy to you
The fairest of the fair.
Oh roses are like memories
They fade and pass above
But you dear heart will e’er remain
My fading flower of forgotten love.

Fading Flower of Forgotten Love by Agnes Ellicott Strong

John Crowley (author of the AEgypt Tetralogy) has mentioned several times in his books a curious list: dogs, stones, stars, and roses. What can he mean by this?

I propose this is a metaphor (Meta-four?) for the four colors of the Magnum Opus: yellow dogs, black stones, white stars, and red roses.

At least until I find out otherwise!


[*8.13, *9.116]


Magnum Opus

February 9, 2015

sq_great_workThe Magnum Opussq_magnum_opus, or Great Work, is a term from alchemy for the process of creating the Philosopher’s Stone, which is a substance that was purported to be able to turn stuff into gold, like King Midas’s Touch. Work and Stone can also be metaphors for perfecting the individual self, as gold was considered the perfect material.


Tsq_RWBYbhe Great Work is often broken into four stages, identified by different colors also seen in the Medicine Wheel of Native Americans. Red is Rubedo or Iosis, White is Albedo or Leukosis, Black is Nigredo or Melanosis, and Yellow is Citrinitas or Xanthosis. The order is usually Black, White, Yellow, and then Red, through beginning to ending stages of the work.


Is this my Great Work? Will I create a Philosopher’s Stone?


[*6.182, *8.12, *8.13]


Graham Harman’s Quadruple Object, V2

March 13, 2014

The world is made up of a basic set of polarities – four of them, it turns out. They cannot be derived from a single radical root, but neither do they exist as incorruptible elements untransmutable into one another in the manner of the Empedoclean air, earth, fire and water.

— From Prince of Networks by Graham Harman


Objects exist as autonous units, but they also exist in conjunction with their qualities, accidents, relations, and moments without being reducible to these. To show how these terms can convert into one another is the alchemical mission of the object-oriented thinker.

— From Prince of Networks by Graham Harman


I have made an attempt at orienting Graham Harman’s fourfold of real object, sensual object, real qualities, and sensual qualities with respect to the other fourfolds presented here. The fourfold object emerges from Harman’s analysis of Heidegger’s das Geviert.


Graham Harman / Guerrilla Metaphysics: phenomenology and the carpentry of things

Graham Harman / Prince of Networks: Bruno Latour and metaphysics

Graham Harman / The Quadruple Object

[*6.46, *6.48, *6.62, *7.40, *7.132, *7.133]


Ægypt Tetralogy

December 20, 2013

aegypt_quartetAEgypt is a literary work by John Crowley consisting of four novels published over a period of twenty years. Each of the four books is divided into three parts, and the twelve parts are named after the astrological houses.

Many occult, alchemical, and esoteric themes run through the novels, and one might describe the work as being “magical realism”. Many of the magical elements are told as “a book within the book” about British occultist Doctor John Dee and Italian heretic Giordano Bruno. Even though some of the magical events occurring in the past and described within the novels seem to be actually magical, by the time the novels end the age of magic is now over, and the last magical event seemed to erase the fact that magic ever was.

The ending of the last book makes several references to Shakespeare’s “The Tempest”.

Some very useful reviews of the first three books can be found below.,0,4224148.story#axzz2lmoAGKzp,0,6059163.story#axzz2lmoAGKzp


The Medicine Wheel

December 11, 2013


The Native American Medicine Wheel is a symbol system that associates several fourfolds together, such as the Four Seasons, the Four Cardinal Directions, the Four Elements, etc. Another fourfold that does this is the Four Temperaments.

There should be a good word for this amalgamation of fourfolds into one hyper- or mega- or uber- fourfold. What about quadriphilia? No, that’s just love of fours, but it is in the Urban Dictionary. Quadrasyncretism? I like the neologism tetrasyncretism, from tetra meaning four, and syncretism, meaning combining different (or many) beliefs into one.

The aspect of the Medicine Wheel illustrated above is similar to the Four Temperaments.

RWBYThe colors Red, White, Black, and Yellow are important for the Medicine Wheel. The colors often occur in a certain order within quadrants of the circle of the wheel. The colors also correspond to the Four Seasons: Black for Autumn, White for Winter, Yellow for Spring, and Red for Summer, although there can be other mappings.

These same four colors are also important in alchemy and represent stages of the Magnus Opus or Great Work, where Red is Rubedo or Iosis, White is Albedo or Leukosis, Black is Nigredo or Melanosis, and Yellow is Citrinitas or Xanthosis. The order is usually Black, White, Yellow, and then Red, through beginning to ending stages of the work.

In addition, the current anime RWBY has characters with these main costume colors. Apparently it is a story with some magic and much fighting with large weapons by four young women.

Angeles Arrien / The Four-Fold Way: Walking the Paths of the Warrior, Teacher, Healer, and Visionary

Google search for images of the Medicine Wheel.

Google search for images of the Four Cardinal Directions.

[*7.194, *8.12]


The Tempest and Forbidden Planet

December 6, 2013

To work mine end upon their senses that
This airy charm is for, I’ll break my staff,
Bury it certain fathoms in the earth,
And deeper than did ever plummet sound
I’ll drown my book.

Prospero from The Tempest

the_tempestIn times long past, this planet was the home of a mighty, noble race of beings who called themselves the Krell. Ethically and technologically they were a million years ahead of humankind, for in unlocking the mysteries of nature they had conquered even their baser selves, and when in the course of eons they had abolished sickness and insanity, crime and all injustice, they turned, still in high benevolence, upwards towards space. Then, having reached the heights, this all-but-divine race perished in a single night, and nothing was preserved above ground.

Dr. Morbius from Forbidden Planet


[*7.154, *8.11]


The Four Temperaments

November 8, 2013

four_temperamentsWhat would a list of fourfolds be without mentioning the Four Temperaments: Sanguine, Choleric, Melancholic, and Phlegmatic?

Indeed, these personality types from ancient medicine and philosophy are still a source of classification and inspiration for modern psychology, even though the reasons for the differences (the four humors) has been discredited. The four humors were blood, yellow bile, black bile (they were big on bile), and phlegm, and were also related to the Four Seasons and the Four Elements.

Below is psychologist David Keirsey’s modernization of the four temperaments, consisting of Idealist, Artisan, Guardian, and Rationalist.


Images of the Four Temperaments.

[*6.122, *6.123, *7.194, *8.14, *8.94, *8.139]