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Reading from Paradise Lost this week, I was struck again by just how well Satan knows us. And also quite how a certain type of Tiffinian student is so reminiscent of our primordial and mythological mother, Eve; she of the famous double act ‘Adam and Eve’.  I’m talking of Milton’s Satan and Milton’s Eve in particular.  In the so-called temptation scene, what really persuades Eve to take a bite of the forbidden fruit is Satan’s promise: eritis sicut Deus, scientum bonum et malum (you will be like God, knowing what is good and what is evil).  You see, old Satan certainly knew which buttons to press.  How tempting it is to believe that we could know things with absolute certainty.  As Satan knew very well, introducing the idea that we can be certain about stuff is enough to lose anyone Paradise.

There is a certain way of thinking characterised by the belief that ‘either this is right or that is right’. Thus much time can be wasted proving that what I know is better than what you know.  In this way, education becomes a kind of process of teaching students how to efficiently assert ‘I am right and you are wrong’. I was chatting with a Year 8 student only yesterday during a maths cover lesson, who gleefully informed me that maths was a much better subject than English because in maths “you can prove you are right”.

“Oh, Eve!”  I thought, “much deceived, much failing, hapless Eve…”

Of course analysis is crucial but so is synthesis and imagination.

Which brings us along to a very important metaphysical and psychological point, namely ‘opposites are connected’. It is tempting to think that opposites are simply as far apart as they can be from one another but they’re not. As I think I may have mentioned previously.

My psychiatrist friends tell me that a lot of their work is helping people to see that there is a good side to what it is that they fear and dislike in themselves, but there is also a dark side to the bits that they pride themselves on, and that you cannot get rid of the dark side.  Instead you accept it and work with it, moving it towards something creative.

As soon as we decide that x, y & z are good (and their opposites are bad) then we tend to work to have more and more and more and more of the thing we’ve decided is good.  We eat the apple, without noticing its shadow, or that for every mountain there must be a valley.

In A Wizard of Earthsea by Ursula K. Le Guin, a trainee wizard by the name of Ged, through a hubristic and misunderstood use of magic, conjures a shadow which pursues him throughout the narrative arc of the story until (spoiler alert) Ged comes to understand that the shadow is part of himself.  Fans of the Harry Potter series will appreciate the connections with the Harry and Voldermort show there.  And as you know, this is all part of Jung’s idea of the shadow.

So, let us not believe that our views are right and all opposition must be eliminated.  Let us see that for the flawed and dangerous thinking that it is. Anxiety is increased by attempting to clear the field of all that is opposite to our way of seeing whatever it is we are seeing. Everything that exists comes inevitably with its opposite.

Another of my favourite authors, G K Chesterton puts it very well: “It is one thing to describe an interview with a gorgon or a griffin, a creature who does not exist. It is another thing to discover that the rhinoceros does exist and then take pleasure in the fact that he looks as if he didn’t.”

Until next time, Happy Reading/taking pleasure in the beauty of Euler’s equation!

Mr Liddy

Director of Literacy