Aporia, the Socratic concept for gaining wisdom after a crisis

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Louise Hay
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They say that Socrates questioned his disciples to help them free themselves from erroneous knowledge or false beliefs that prevented them from seeing reality. Socrates asked them questions until the students were immersed in a state of aporia, a sort of impasse in which they were without footholds and recognized the impossibility of arriving at a definitive and precise answer with their previous knowledge.

This state of aporia allowed them to recognize that their initial certainties were of little use. They understood that if they were to keep moving forward they had to get rid of those preconceptions. Eventually they realized how much mental weight they carried with them.



This state, which can be extremely revealing to some, is terrifying to others because they experience it as a process of losing their roots and certainties. But sometimes, if we are to move forward in life, we must have the courage to immerse ourselves in aporia, which is nothing more than recognizing that perhaps some of the constructs on which our world rests may not be as solid or valid as we thought.

What is Aporia?

“Aporia is not the question, but the inability to answer and the feeling of worry that comes with it. Aporia is literally the absence of a path, and at the same time what prevents you from finishing the path. The fact of not having an answer to the question forces us to rethink it in another form or to ask different questions ”, as the philosopher Pierre Aubenque said.

Aporia, however, not only implies that we realize that many of our certainties have been destroyed, but it is also an intense emotional state in which an uncomfortable feeling of disorientation prevails caused by the absence of the cardinal points that until recently we they drove.



Uncertainty, confusion and perplexity: the 3 horses of the "aporic apocalypse"

All of us, at some point in our life, can go through a state of aporia. We will know this because we will feel stuck, trapped in a kind of limbo in which we will not be able to advance, but we will not be able to go back either.

In this state, we will look for answers, but we will not find them, both because we are asking the wrong questions and because we are starting from incorrect premises or hypotheses.

So even if we touch, see and feel reality, it will lose its meaning. Suddenly it will be alien to us. It is as if everything was emptied of meaning. At that moment, reason will struggle desperately to give meaning to what we are experiencing. But we won't be able to find it. We will not be able to find an explanation for what happens to us because the conceptual structures that have guided us so far will no longer serve us.

That inability to fit everything in our mind creates confusion and perplexity. It rocks our world. At this point we have two options: to sink into despair or take advantage of that state to make a qualitative leap in our growth path.

We cannot avoid aporia, but we can decide how to react

Aporia can be a difficult state to manage, especially for people who seek certainty and feel uncomfortable in uncertainty. When their beliefs collapse, they can feel genuine panic. They also run the risk of radicalizing in an attempt to cling to a certain certainty, which makes them even more rigid in thought.


Aporia, however, can also be a powerful catalyst for personal change. Indeed, it predisposes the inquisitive and intelligent mind to the discovery and acceptance of truths that, before that state, we would have considered unacceptable or intolerable.


Aporia also helps us to become humbler people. It allows us to understand that we do not possess the truth and must open ourselves to other ways of understanding and experiencing the world. It also teaches us that the life we ​​have built is much more fragile than we think. It shows us our most vulnerable side and that makes us more human.

What if the problem isn't the problem?

“What is the answer to the question? The problem. How can the problem be solved? Shifting the question ”, said Michel Foucault. "We need to think problematically rather than question and respond dialectically."

This French psychologist encourages us to think about the matter in a new light, but he also encourages us to think about thinking. To question ourselves. Doubt our premises. And, above all, accept the contradictions and divergences.


Sometimes we cannot understand the world because we apply dichotomous thinking that seeks affirmation or denial, when reality is much more complex than this and requires multiple thinking that contemplates the greatest number of possibilities.

Aporia not only cancels certainties, it also opens the door to a world where everything is possible, where we can find alternative explanations and new ways of seeing things. That is why it is essentially a liberating state that allows us to get rid of old ways of thinking and acting in order to dare to imagine other ways of being in the world.

Right now we are going through - as a society and individually - a state of aporia. The pandemic has shown us our vulnerability leaving us bewildered, looking for ever more elusive certainties. We can sink into despair or take advantage of aporia to free ourselves from the shackles of traditional thinking and think about new ways of living. The decision is ours alone.


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