Do Opposites actually exist?

Is there such a thing as an opposite?
My hypothesis is that real things do not have opposites. There is no opposite for toothbrush, tree, dirt, coffee, or crayon. These are things in the real world, they exist. Is there anything that actually exists, that has an opposite?

Only concepts have opposites and these opposites are arbitrary. Up and down are opposites. But do up and down actually exit or are they just useful ideas. Ideas/concepts have opposites because we give them opposites. How far do I go down into the earth before I am going up? (Half way.) Up and down are concepts related to the directions on earth. If I were on the moon, the directions would be completely different. They equally, move about depending on where I am standing on the earth.

Where are these opposites people speak of. Is it only convention?

You cannot have a true opposite because it would be the opposite of something, For that to be the case it would exist as an opposite and be nothing. That makes no sense.

Are there actually opposites or are we imprisoned by black and white thinking?

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While I may have some understanding of your epistemological trajectory here, namely that you’re interested in injecting some rigour into our thinking, the first thought that crossed my mind was “antiparticles”. Which possess an opposite electrical charge to the corresponding particles.

An instructive example to explore further is an electron together with an antielectron (or positron if you prefer). Both particles are fermions, and have a half-integer spin. Allow them to contact each other, and they annihilate esch other, generating a gamma ray photon. However, the photon is a boson, with integer spin, a member of a completely different class of particles.

Fermions and bosons can be thought of as “opposites” not only because of the difference in spin, but because they are responsible for completely different observables. Fermions are responsible for matter, while bosons are responsible for forces.

Of course, if any of the various versions of supersymmetry are ever placed upon a sound evidential footing, the world of physics will start to become almost as wild as it was in the 1970s “particle zoo” days. :slight_smile: But until then, I’ll content myself with the Standard Mod,el, in the absence of results pointing to it needing revision.


It’s an interesting philosophical question, and my two cents (no doubt overpriced) on the question is that some things have opposites, and some don’t . . . as you pointed out.

If something is “neutral” (in however you define the word), then it’s its own opposite.

Along with what Calilasseia said, I would say that the positive and negative poles on a magnet are opposites, and I would say that positive and negative charges are opposites.

Yet even these examples can be challenged, so please excuse me while I digress for a moment . . . I promise I’m going somewhere.

I am a science fiction writer, so I have an interest in things like artificial gravity. I was–in an aborted effort to flesh out a story–trying to figure out ways create artificial gravity. A rotating space ship utilizing centrifugal force is old hat, so I wanted someting new.

I have heard of things like leaves, small frogs, etc. being suspended in a very strong magnetic field because of the diamagnetism of water . . . where a water molecule can actually be pushed away from a very strong magnet. Neutron stars may have very, very strong magnetic fields along with crushing gravity, so I was trying to figure out if a person (assuming he or she wasn’t instantly burned up and vaporized) could walk across a neutron star without being crushed by gravity if the diamagnetism was strong enough to counterbalance the gravitational pull.

And no, the story was awful . . . and it died a quick death in the bottom of my parents’ bird cage.

My point is that–under some circumstances–something can have more than one opposite. Centrifugal force can be the opposite of gravity, but so can diamagnetism.

So, we can maybe conclude that something’s opposite is a matter of context and/or circumstance?

Tangential diversion for Kevin …

If you’re interested in science fiction stories dealing with alternative approaches to gravity, look up Cities In Flight by James Blish. Which was based on actual work on linking gravity to electromagnetism by this individual.

It’s a four volume set, though I have a paperback version combining all four volumes in one.

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Dry and wet, I know they’re descriptions of a state, but they reflect objective reality? I was thinking hot and cold, but that seems arbitrary…If it is ever evidenced then anti-matter and matter?


I was thinking the same thing Sheldon.
Wouldn’t the negative and positive (magnet) also be an opposite. Light and dark?


Thank you very much. I have always liked James Blish, and I will look for “Cities in Flight.”

There was also a classic Star Trek episode–which involved a city floating above a planet’s surface–called “The Cloud Minders.”

In any case, I discarded my idea of using the diamagnetism of water as a source of antigravity (or artificial gravity), as there are too many barriers to make it seem realistic enough for my audience.

Yes, My point. We think of them as opposites.
Okay, physics is weird. I don’t know much. My understanding - 1. (1). Fermions (2). Bosons
These are mainly classified by their spin. Fermions are those particles, which contain fractional spin e.g. electron have spin either +(1/2) or -(1/2).

How can photons be fermions? Ordinarily they are bosons meaning they have integer spin. But they can in special cases behave like half spin fermions. See [There are many ways to spin a photon: Half-quantization of a total optical angular momentum.

Does this imply flaws in quantum theory or a need to revamp our understanding of optics?

No nothing of the sort. What we have here, an historical event common in physics, is an experimental discovery of an incontrovertible consequence of the theory heretofore unrecognized. We have a lack of human imagination not lack of theoretical viability.

What we discovered was that if you restrict the physical dimensions photons can move in they behave differently. This is yet another instantiation of the quantum Hall effect, nonabelian anyons, Majoranan Fermion, etc.

I fully agree with you. The way we think and the way we categorize events in the world is from a sense of utility, and quite possibly necessity. Is it reality or just the way our brains are dividing up the world? Are the divisions real or just useful?

Perhaps, this is like the “Brain in the Vat” It really doesn’t matter. We live in the world and this is the way we see it. Not to see it this way has consequences that are real.

I’m asking because I have frequently taken the position that there are no opposites for things that are real. Only concepts, theories, hypotheses have opposites.

MAGNATISM ---- interesting. We only have an opposite when we break the chain. If we have a long magnet, N on one side and P on the other, everything is in sequential order. If we cut it in half and flip it around, we now have NP PN. And the Positives repeal each other. Are they opposite or just going the wrong way? Opposites attract. If I turn the piece back around to where I have NPNP, everything is in order and the magnets attract. It is opposite, or just natures way of saying “We connect this way, not that way?”

I agree with this completely. I think there are levels of opposites and that they are more made up than actually real. If I look at a color wheel, orange is opposite blue. These are opposite colors on a color wheel. It does not follow that they are opposite frequencies, but just different. However, the opposite of color is an absence of color or darkness. Black. Both orange and blue share the opposite, black.

Opposites are easy to find when we look at abstract concepts, and adjectives (which themselves are often reified adjectives).

I noticed there is actually a lot of philosophical discussion about this online in different forums. I don’t actually think there is an answer. There seems to be a lot of debate and some interesting positions.

Yes. I think that is where my brain is ending up as well. It seems to be a perception thing based on functionality or utility.

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And Lando Calrissian’s Cloud City in The Empire Strikes Back.

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Photons confined to less than three dimensions can have half-integer spin like fermions. I wonder, in that case, if they’d obey the Pauli Exclusion Principle like fermions do? That would have interesting implications.

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Dry: The absence of water. No water. A state of waterlessness. No hydrogen atoms bonded to oxygen atoms. In the presence of 6 or more hydrogen and oxygen molecules, we get the emergent property of wetness. The degree of wetness is contingent on the abundance of molecules. The emergent property of wetness is a thing. Its opposite is non-existence. (Dryness). I agree. The opposite of all existent things is non-existence. Just as above, the absence of orange is no color or blackness. Non-existence. So the opposite of everything that exists is not to exist?

But existence, like magnetism, is a process. It moves from point A to point B. It moves from formation to entropy. What is existence, but a reformation of the atoms? What is entropy, but a reforming of the atoms? Existence moves in one direction. It follows the arrow of time.

I’m currently thinking along the same lines as Kevin. I’m continuing to read posts in philosophical forums, and I’m interested in your responses. “Lots of smart people on this site.” I’m just off exploring because somebody said something someplace, and I had to go on an expedition to try and figure it all out. My little monkey brain won’t keep still.

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Speaking physics, “hot” is just a higher temperature than “cold”. They are not opposites, just two different realisations of the same. Something that is “hot” has atoms and molecules with higher kinetic energy than something “cold”. Additionally, hot and cold are just relative to an arbitrary reference point. If the reference point is what humans can comfortably handle, boiling water is “hot”, while frozen water is “cold”. If we are talking superconductors, both are hot. If we are referring to temperatures on the surface of a star (like our sun) or the center of a star, both temperatures are very cold, practically negligible. So no, “hot” and “cold” are not opposites.

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If a + b = X, where X is the additive identity (0 for real numbers), then a and b are opposites.

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Yes! That’s exactly where I am going.

[Nyarlathotep] Okay… If a + b = X, where X is the additive identity. If I add any amout of b to a (a+b) then I get something different ‘X’ X becomes an opposite? (I’m missing something because this does not make sense.

Can you give me a real world example? My hypothesis was ‘Things that are real do not have opposites.’ Opposites occur in concepts and ideas. Numbers would be a concept.

I’m actually going someplace with this in regard to Good and Evil. They are not opposites but simply concepts. We ascribe them to life around us. But don’t we do that with all concepts?

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If I owe you a dollar and you owe me a dollar, then those debits are opposites.

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Uh…your slip is showing…or maybe that’s the OCD.
From my point of view it is a language issue. Much like the word “nothing” it is used to indicate or describe characteristics (or the lack thereof) and not necessarily any “thing”.
Often it is used as a rhetorical tool to indicate a contrary attitude, approach, or viewpoint.
Although it is also defined as the “reverse” or “inverse” of something, that definition lacks accuracy upon examination. Some of the examples given above highlight this.
Sometimes it is defined as “completely different”, which also lacks accuracy in that determining “completely” is likely not practically possible, and “different” is highly ambiguous.
I have issues with language limitations which are usually manifested in improper usage and misunderstood or non-existent definitions. Since language is reflective of the thought process(s) of those employing it, repeated ambiguity or lack of clarity may serve as an indicator of evasiveness or duplicity, or in many instances, limitations of vocabulary. If one seeks clarity in conversation or discussions, identifications of definitions and usages may be required. In everyday applications this may seem arduous and rather pedantic, and the relevance of such precision may be called into question. Does accuracy matter to you?
So to answer your question, no, for readily identifiable, practical physical reality considerations, opposites do not appear to exist, though I have no opposition to opposing points of view.
I appreciate the exposure of words like opposite for the inadequacies and ambiguities that they represent. And yes @Cognostic my thesaurus is thumb-worn…and my OCD is doing just fine, thank you…


Is it the same dollar? Owe and debit are concepts are they not?
The converse of debit is credit. The absence of a debit is not an opposite but rather a demonstration of a defined quantity. :face_with_raised_eyebrow:

Wouldn’t dark just be the absence of light? So dark isn’t really an opposite, just an observation of the absence of light? Colors aren’t opposites because they are all just different wavelengths of light interpreted by the human eye. I don’t think dogs would think one shade of grey is the opposite of another shade of grey. shrug


Actually, I heard another word for them that is similar to opposite and sometimes used in place of opposite. A “Negation.” I think it is an example of two distinct things. I owe you a dollar. That is an independent fact. You own me a dollar. Another independent fact. Certainly they cancel each other out.

I’m thinking about this one… We owe each other a dollar?

I’ll go with srkritin’s reply above. I was getting there. He beat me to it.

I found thins.

The conclusion is that many concepts of “opposites” are illusions. Visible colours such as Black and White are not physical opposites, moral concepts of Good and Evil are anthrocentric and subjectivist. Rich and poor, hot and cold are both only illusionary opposites. In all English usages of the term “opposite” it is an arbitrary and incidental term, according only to cultural definition and suited to Human experience, not to absolute reality. In reality, in science and physics, there are no simple opposites. Physically it is not true that “everything has an opposite” and truer that “nothing has an opposite”. Beyond suppositions and assumption, any in-depth investigation of an “opposite” shows it to be a useful phrase and term, but not a description of any deep reality. The term “opposite” is only suited to English and art, not to logical philosophy or physical science.

I’m somewhat comfortable with this definition,.

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