AND and OR are logic’s most basic elements, but they are far more than that. AND is cooperation—you AND me. OR is competition—you OR me. AND is win-win—both
of us could take all. OR is win-lose—winner takes all. In the aphorism, if you can’t beat ’em, join ’em, AND is join ’em while OR is beat ’em.

How come no one ever says, if you can’t bear to join ’em, beat ’em, though it’s equally true?

ANDs are what economists call complements—products that go hand in hand: burgers AND fries. ORs are what economists call substitutes—products that replace each other: hot dogs OR burgers.

AND is a groove, the state of comfort with the mix of things, when you can have your cake AND eat it too. OR is a dilemma, in which you must decide either to have your cake OR to eat it. AND is when you can hedge, employing both/and solutions: Sally AND Sue. OR is when you can’t hedge and are forced to employ an either/or solution: Sally OR Sue.

Mind Readers Dictionary: The Podfast : Play in Popup

Mind Readers Dictionary : Play in Popup


OR in English and other languages can mean either or both:

Would you like mild OR hot sauce with that?

Yes, please I’ll have a bit of both.

. . . or it can mean either but not both:

Follow the rules OR you’ll pay the price.

AND celebrates diversity: His opinion AND hers, they’re both right. OR celebrates discernment: His opinion OR hers, they can’t both be right.

In all trial-and-error processes AND supplies the trials: Candidate A AND B. OR judges the trials, determining which wins and which loses: Candidate A OR B. In biological evolution’s trial-and-error process, AND provides the diversity of life forms. OR is natural selection constraining the forms through competition in which one form OR the other survives—not both.

ANDs becoming ORs are at the root of all addictions. Our bodies produce endorphin. If we inject morphine, we enjoy a period of both/and pleasure: Morphine AND endorphin? I’ll have a bit of both please. The morphine complements our bodies’ production of endorphin. But over time morphine’s presence shuts down endorphin production. It’s as if our bodies said, Look, either you rely on the morphine OR on my endorphins. You can’t have both. If we continue to take morphine, it
becomes a substitute for endorphin. Either morphine OR endorphin, and since we no longer produce the endorphin we can’t live without the morphine.

The logic of addiction doesn’t just apply to bad addictions. A long time ago everyone farmed. Then stores became a reliable alternative to farming. We could farm AND go to grocery stores. Then grocery stores became a substitute for farming. Most of us lost our farming skills. Now it’s getting increasingly either/or—either you farm OR you grocery shop, and most of us grocery shop.

Or how about this one: You’re single and you like yourself well enough. But then you meet someone who likes you too. You enjoy the both/and for a while. You like you and so does this other person. You come to rely on them to remind you that you’re likable. Why? Because of that ambiguity built into the word OR. It starts out meaning either or both: can depend on my partner without becoming any less self-sufficient. But over time, without your knowing it, your self-sufficiency declines. Since your partner is as reliable as a 24-hour supermarket, you don’t need to be that self-sufficient.

Each transition from AND to OR creates a new AND at a larger scale: The junkie AND the drug. The customer AND the grocery store. Your partner AND you. The transition from AND through OR is at the heart of all interdependency. It creates the boxes that contain us but also help us grow so expansively, because it is through interdependency that families, teams, organizations, and civilizations grow. This interaction between AND and OR is what holds living things in addicted relation to each other and in so doing makes life’s great round of creative cooperative competitive innovation possible.