One of the 15 fundamental properties.

Contrast is the way that a center is strengthened by the sharpness of the distinction between its character and the character of surrounding centers.

Another feature I have found repeatedly in works of art which have great life is a surprisingly intense contrast — far more contrast than one imagines would be helpful or even possible to sustain.

Life cannot occur without differentiation. Unity can only be created from distinctness. This means, that every center is made from discernible opposites, and intensified when the not-center, against which it is opposed, is clarified, and becomes itself a center. The “opposites” take many forms. But in all of them, contrast of some kind is visible. And in order for the thing to be truly whole, the contrast has to be pronounced. Black-white and dark-light contrast are the most common kinds. Empty-full, solid-void, busy-silent, red-green, and blue-yellow are all possible forms of contrast, too. However, the most important contrasts do not merely show variety of form (high-low, soft-hard, rough-smooth, and so on) but represent true opposites, which essentially annihilate each other when they are superimposed. In some sense, it is the contrast — awareness of silence created by a hand-clap — which is going on here. The difference between opposites gives birth to something. This is the origin of yin-yang, active-passive, light-dark.

In case after case evidence suggests that the sharp extended and visible differences between things which are different allows each center to take its proper nature. It permits more intensive attention to individual functions. And it creates a feeling of distinction which relaxes people, because it acknowledges and permits different dimensions of experience.

Contrast is the thing which creates differentiation, and allows differentiation. It is the differentiation of the void which gives birth to matter. All differentiation requires that contrast is created in space, in order to give birth to anything at all.

In nature

Many — perhaps all — natural systems obtain their organization and energy from the interaction of opposites.

As in other properties, the obviousness of the way that contrast works in particular cases is nevertheless hard to explain or predict as a general rule. It would be extremely hard to show, from first principles, why contrast must arise, necessarily, as a property of any naturally occurring system, and one wonders whether the matter is not merely cognitive. We read contrast; our cognition depends on it; therefore we think it is important. And yet the fundamental contrast of dark and light, positive and negative, can hardly be an artifact of our cognition.

The nearest thing I know to a general explanation of its appearance in the world is the one given by Spencer Brown. His beautiful account of all mathematics arising from the contrast (distinction) between nothing and something tries to show how all structure and form, at the most elementary level, come from contrast. But why the systems in which living structure appears seem to have contrast more strongly than others — that remains a mystery.

#book/The Nature of Order/1 The Phenomenon of Life/5 Fifteen fundamental properties#

#book/The Nature of Order/1 The Phenomenon of Life/6 The fifteen properties in nature#

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