Balance of opposites is important in many permacomputing contexts.

Many people have a tendency to form dichotomies where one side is somehow "the good one" whereas the other is the "bad" or even "evil" one. Sometimes, the good side is considered so good that it becomes a silver bullet, something that is supposed to be universally good in all cases.

Balance of opposites can be used to eliminating this kind of black-and-white oversimplification. There are very few things or ideas that are either "good" or "evil" in all possible contexts. Instead of bluntly stating that an idea or a piece of technology is "the best" or "just evil", one should try to delineate the contexts where it works and where it does not.

Yin and yang

Yin and Yang (陰陽) are concepts from Chinese philosophy. Yang is active, controlling and expanding, while Yin is passive, yielding and contracting. They are not "good and evil" but complementary opposites that should have a balance, often via cyclic changes.

In permacomputing contexts, the Yin-Yang dichotomy is sometimes used to contrast different computing cultures. Modern technological civilization is disproportionally yang, and this yangness extends to the cultures of computer hacking: total control over systems (natural or technological) is praised, which easily leads to impoverished monocultures where a lot of energy is wasted on forcing things into narrow standards.

Too much yin, on the other hand, may lead to an excessive acceptance of the way how things are and "have always been". It likewise easily leads to narrow norms, via traditionalism. The norms may be hostile to innovation, experimentation and reappropriation. It may also lead to intellectual laziness, where rational analysis is not even attempted.

Yin and yang hacking

These concepts were introduced in the Permacomputing 2020 text.

In Yang hacking, a total understanding and control of the target system is valued. Changing a system's behavior is often an end in itself. There are predefined goals the system is pushed towards. Optimization tends to focus on a single measurable parameter. Finding a system's absolute limits is more important than finding its individual strengths or essence.

In contrast, Yin hacking accepts the aspects that are beyond rational control and comprehension. Rationality gets supported by intuition. The relationship with the system is more bidirectional, emphasizing experimentation and observation. The "personality" that stems from system-specific peculiarities gets more attention than the measurable specs. It is also increasingly important to understand when to hack and when just to observe without hacking.

Yang hacking is quite essential to computing. After all, computers are based on comprehensible and deterministic models that tiny pieces of nature are "forced" to follow. However, there are many kinds of systems where the yin way makes more sense (e.g. the behavior of neural networks is often very difficult to analyze rationally).

Transgression and immersion

Transgression and immersion are two oppositional ways to creatively relate to constraints, especially in the kind of digital art forms that appreciate constraints (?chip music, demoscene, pixel art).

Transgression is yang: it attempts to "break" or "push" the boundaries; to get a system to do something it is not supposed to be able to do; to find new things by exploring the unexplored possibilities of a given platform. The characteristic sounds and looks of a system (such as the 1:1 square wave in chip music, or clearly visible pixel boundaries) are often considered unrefined and unwanted.

Immersion is yin: instead of breaking away from the typical and unrefined, it takes it as the basis to build on. The 1:1 square wave is now very much wanted. The individual characteristics of a system are appreciated and explored ever deeper.