The Paradox Principle

Paradoxical Effects and the Rule of Opposites: The Paradox Principle and Butterfly Effect

In practice, human action often has paradoxical or unintended effects. Sometimes effects or side effects even have the exact opposite effect as intended.

Consider the probabilistic and quantum nature of the physical universe and human mind. Human nature is complicated, and actions produce complex and sometimes even impossible to predict results.

For want of a nail the shoe was lost; for want of a shoe the horse was lost, and for want of a horse the rider was lost, being overtaken and slain by the enemy, all for want of care about a horse-shoe nail. – Benjamin Franklin Describing the Butterfly Effect – The Way to Wealth

TIP: This page uses metaphors and metaphysics to explain the very fundamental social and physical concept “that each action has a reaction.” In social relationships, human ones specifically, the results of actions and reactions are often unpredictable.

TIP: “Human action” is a reference to Ludwig von Mises, who theorized that “everything is a result of human action” especially in socio-economic and political spheres.

The Nature of Abstractions

All abstractions (dualities) can be viewed as a polarization of a single concept.

For instance, the concept beauty can be divided into “not beautiful” and “very beautiful,” or “pretty” and “ugly.” The concept of being can be divided into mass and energy, the concept of numbers into positive and negative integers, the concepts of strength into strength and weakness, the concept of sex into male and female, etc.

When the world knows beauty as beauty, ugliness arises. – The Tao Te Ching, Chapter 2

TIP: Some dualities are either/or, like “off” and “on” in binary. Other dualities naturally oppose each other in a static way (like pretty and ugly) but exist as gradients of possibilities, others ebb and flow (like electricity and magnetism). This is part of what gives things complex effects in action.

Complexity, Spheres, and Matrices

Instead of just considering “ugly” and “pretty” as an either/or duality, we can instead consider a range of pretty and ugly as “a sphere of possibilities,” and then consider different types of beauty as a matrix of spheres (an interacting or non-interacting conceptual system).

For example, when judging the beauty of a person, we can say: This person has a fairly pretty face, a very attractive personality, a rather mean spirit, an average voice, a pretty body, plus they like Big Bang Theory and old Superman comics, so that is very attractive, etc.

We can then compare all those spheres and get an aggregate, but complex, understanding of this person’s beauty (from our perspective).

If we move this analogy over to more complex concepts and interactions, we get more complex effects.

The Fractal Nature of Things

Another thing to consider is that while reactions have equal and opposite force, they don’t always haven an equal and opposite effect, especially at any given point.

Consider the fractal nature of photons reflecting off a surface. A range of locations can be predicted for the photons in general, but it is impossible to predict what will happen to a single photon with accuracy because of the quantum and probabilistic nature of light. The universe is made from quantum particles in complex relationships, so it should be no surprise that, while we can find patterns and understand what sort of things to expect, exact predictions of what will occur at a given point are impossible.

While we can sometimes predict effect A and B, we can’t always predict what will happen between A and B due to the “fractal” nature of the universe (the infinite amount of self-similar events that take place between A and B).

Comparing Mandelbrot and Julia Sets

Inside every Mandelbrot set is an infinite number of Julia sets. This sounds like a parable, but it’s actually a true, yet loose, statement about the Mandelbrot fractal.

Paradoxical Effects in Social Systems

Due to the complexity of social systems, effects of actions are often paradoxical.

If you were to try to redistribute wealth to fix economic inequality, you might find yourself creating more inequality. Try to have a liberal revolution, and you may find yourself with a Reign of Terror.

This is the Paradox Principle or the Rule of Opposites. It is the idea that all systems go in cycles and seek balance. It operates much the same way as electromagnetic energy oscillates. It is how left and right politics arises naturally and creates the basic political parties, or how a fractal or waveform resolves.[1][2]


Rules for Avoiding Big Paradoxical Effects

We can sum up the endless arguments and examples that spring from this Paradox Principle as:

  1. All systems are in a state of constant oscillation and entropy and will always seek balance.
  2. Every action has an equal reaction.
  3. Social systems are complex. Many actions and reactions will always be taking place and are hard or impossible to predict. Imagine rolling a ball through a puddle and trying to predict the direction each droplet of water will splash.
  4. The danger is in big moves and big gaps like big wealth gaps, or power gaps, or interest gaps. Big moves and big gaps have significant socioeconomic effects.

The best way to treat social systems, especially government, is the way you would treat a small fish.

To quote the Tao as an advisor once quoted it to Reagan,[3]

“Govern a great nation as you would cook a small fish [; do not overdo it].”

In other words, since effects are often paradoxical, it is best to make little corrections and avoid large gaps. A little wealth gap today may become a big one tomorrow. Later it may turn into a revolution. Who can predict what effect that will have? As we move toward globalization, the stakes only get higher, and simple words like the Tao quote used by Reagan ring truer.[4]

See: Ronald Wilson Reagan State of the Union 1988 – 25 January 1988.

TIP: Below are videos that range from pure metaphysics to the purely libertarian. Oddly there weren’t a ton of videos on the paradoxical effects of socioeconomic actions.

The Principle of Paradox. Some thinkers who have realized the Paradox Principle have drifted away from realism and into the depths of metaphysics. Here is the only video I could find on the topic.

Unified Harmonic Matrix: Exploring Universal Fractal Coherence – Adam Apollo. For something more mainstream see The Royal Institution’s Four Dimensional Maths: Things to See and Hear in the Fourth Dimension with Matt Parke. The point being there is infinite possibilities between any two points according to basic western mathematics (and that is part of our analogy).

Milton Friedman Speaks – Myths That Conceal Reality. Another less metaphysical way to look at this is from the lens of Milton Friedman (to stick with the Reagan analogy). Friedman might not have a perfect theory, but he is darn good at pointing out the paradoxical effects of socialism on of socio-economics. That is part of the point I’m trying to make here. Another part is that, in terms of government, anti-socialism also produces paradoxical effects.

“Men have differed in opinion and been divided into parties by these opinions from the first origin of societies, and in all governments where they have been permitted freely to think and to speak. The same political parties which now agitate the U.S. have existed through all time. Whether the power of the people or that of the [aristocracy] should prevail were questions which kept the states of Greece and Rome in eternal convulsions, as they now schismatize every people whose minds and mouths are not shut up by the gag of a despot. And in fact, the terms of Whig and Tory belong to natural as well as to civil history. They denote the temper and constitution of mind of different individuals.” —Thomas Jefferson to John Adams, 1813. ME 13:279 – See left and right explained.


  1. the Paradox Principle
  2. Rule of Opposites
  3. Govern a Great Country as You Would Cook a Small Fish
  4. The Tao – GOVERNMENT

"The Paradox Principle" is tagged with: Benjamin Franklin, Equality, Infinity, Isaac Newton, Left–right Politics, Liberty, Ludwig von Mises, Money, Morality, Probability and Odds, Systems, Theories

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