On Dualities

The world we perceive is one of dualities. Left and right; up and down; dead and alive; The Beatles and The Rolling Stones. There is a game played by a family friend of mine called “The Opposites Game” where you name something – anything – and then we discuss what its opposite is. Salt is the opposite of pepper, obviously. The opposite of speakers would either be listeners, or microphones, depending on context. The point of the game is to show that everything has an opposite (even if it can get pretty subjective at times).

Let’s consider, for a moment, a visual representation of a common duality:

If I asked you, “Which duality is represented here?” you might give me a funny look (thinking it’s a trick question) and say, “Uh… white and black?” Correct! But just a glance will show nearly none of the pixels on that image are white or black. About 0.097% of the whole thing is white, and the same for black. The rest is grey! With just one duality we have the pure forms of that duality in vast minority, and over a thousand shades of grey (I’m assuming each column of pixels is a different shade in this 256 x 1024 image). If you were this shade of grey:

you might not be 100% certain of where you fell on this spectrum. You are, in fact, 65% black, but without a frame of reference it’s difficult to say. “Darkish grey” might give a pretty good ballpark, but other people might have a different idea of what that looks like. “65% black” has its own problems, because without the reference of what’s on the other scale, someone might think you’re this:

which is 65% black, but on a black-red spectrum. “Darkish grey” is at once less specific and more informative than “65% black”, but probably more useful. I don’t need to know (unless I’m like, in graphic design) exactly which shade of grey you are; it’s enough that I get a general range.

What if we didn’t think in terms of grey? What if there weren’t a vocabulary for what kind of grey you were? What if you didn’t even realise there was a spectrum? What if you thought the white/black duality looked like this?

“I’m black…?” you’d say, in a quivering, unsure voice. This is a sad world, this one where white and black are the only things on the white/black spectrum. By extension, red, blue, and green would lack spectra and be restricted to binary states.

A quick side note: there is a tool for processing data called a matrix. You all know what a matrix looks like, but if I just say that word you’re like, “Neo? Morpheus? Red pill / blue pill duality? I get what you’re talking about!” Hahaha, cute, but no, this is a matrix:

In this simple matrix, we are deciding what digit to put after the numbers in the first column. In the second column, all the numbers will end with “0” and in the third column, all the numbers will end in “1”. In this way, we can combine data sets (in this case, our two data sets are [1, 0] and [10_, 20_]) to make a whole new, richer data set: [{100, 101}, {200, 201}]. I made a matrix for this world of sad colours:

For any colour, it either has red or doesn’t; same with blue and green. This gives us eight colours. Not bad, making eight colours out of 3. (By the way, if you’re still stuck in the grade 1 conception of colour theory, please click here.) But it doesn’t nearly represent the infinite colours our eyes can perceive, using our red, blue, and green cones. Imagine what an octotonous world like this would look like! Some kind of weird, 4-bit video game, or a preschool painting. I feel like I might go crazy.

It is so easy to recognise the myriad colours in our universe, because direct information (light wavelength) is translated by our eyes and nerves, then presented by our brains to our conscious selves. So it was natural for us to develop a vernacular for these many colours. Some people “earn a living” (whatever the fuck that means) naming colours. It was essential for us to be able to say things like, “The sky is darkish grey, so it’s probably going to rain or some shit.”

We get a much more accurate look at the world of colour from something like this, which is not a matrix at all, but a 3D graph, or “Cartesian plane”:

Enough about colour. Let’s talk about something more controversial!

In this society, historically, we think of gender and sexuality as a 2D matrix which, sadly, looked something like this:

What a bland world. Four types of people. You think you could maybe date a woman as easily as dating a man? Too bad. 51% straight means totally straight, buster. Go have children. This categorisation happened because detecting sexuality and gender is much more difficult than detecting colour, and we often take signs (beards, boobs, etc.) as being tell-alls.

But what has been happening in the last century (or the last 200,000 years, depending on your perspective) is that people are starting to realise that this is dumb and stupid, that people basically never fall on the extremes of the scale. Think about it: if I rolled a 1024 sided die and picked whatever number came up as where I would fall on the above black/white spectrum, how often would I get black or white? Yes, 1 out of 1024. That means on average, one of my Facebook friends might be 100% man or 100% woman. This is a gross oversimplification, and there is probably something more like a normal distribution for these statistics. In this slightly less gross oversimplification, the number of people (assuming a 6-sigma probability) who are 100% man or woman is something like 3.4 out of 1,000,000. So, none of your Facebook friends.

The other problem with that matrix is that it puts “man” and “woman”, which refer to gender, without putting “male” and “female”, which refer to sex; these are different things! I am not an expert in this field, so if you have some pressing criticism of my analysis I would love to hear it (leave a comment!). But it seems to me we could benefit a lot from learning about our categorisation of colour. We can straight up steal the blue/red/green colour model and apply it to gender/sex/sexuality, giving us:

(It isn’t perfect, by any means; how much can sex and gender differ? I don’t know, this is just an idea!)

Then, based on where people fall on this graph, we can find all sorts of terms for people of different configurations (there are already lots; look them up). I don’t believe there are two people in the world with the same ratio of male/female biology, meaning that there are way more sexes & genders than colours. Why isn’t it someone’s job to name sexes or genders? (If your eyes lit up on reading this and it’s your dream job, DO IT!)

Introducing this kind of metric into the public consciousness might help to alleviate some of the anxiety people have about the issue. “Uh, but I was always taught that you were either gay or straight. I mean, either is fine! But uh…” doesn’t cut the mustard anymore. There have always been societies with three, four, five, maybe more genders (I haven’t done enough research!). It’s time we caught up, yeah? Soon our tetratonous world of anxious binaries will be no more.

And this is only one issue. There are probably lots of issues around which could benefit from a larger vocabulary, or a visual model of type. Can you think of one that’s close to you?

Thanks for reading. I love you. Stay colourful! ^_^



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