Tuesday, February 17, 2009

One Explanation

The Taoist perception of the real world differs essentially from our usual Western one. We tend to think, diagrammatically, of a world of separate things -- some of them alive -- arranged in an independent space. We take it for granted that these lumps of independent "thing" "cause" each other, "act on" each other as they "move about" in empty space, and pass through a series of static states of change.

Even our philosophy and science limit themselves to finding substantial "things", carefully divided from one another by definition, which will "explain" the real world. Idealism calls them ideas, materialism calls them atoms, with their sub-atomic particles. We act on the assumption that our world is a structure assembled of solid building-bricks in many different shapes and sizes, all quite independent of the observer; each concept which denotes one of these building-bricks, its connection with others, or its activities, we take to exclude for ever its opposite or its own negative. The shapes of the building-bricks are fixed, mutually exclusive, and, by implication, unchangeable.

Change happens, we assume, by one "thing" turning into "something else". The way we experience and measure time is by dividing it up into countable moments, each of which is separate and, in an abstract way, identical to all others, however large or infinitely small we may choose to make them.

Taoism sees all this as schematic, vulgar and absurd. It recognizes that, though fixed concepts referring to things and states can be extracted by human thought from the mobile reality, and can be useful, there is actually no way of reconstructing the mobility of the real by adding up fixed concepts.

Therefore, the most important element -- the only element that matters -- is always left out of the ordinary ideas most of us have, on which we base our worlds and with which we try to come to terms with them. All static conceptualism is in the last resort impotent. For even our most sophisticated cosmological reasoning arises from, and leads back to, integral concepts which have this enormous primary fallacy built into them.

The Tao which Taoism knows, and with which its art is concerned, is a seamless web of unbroken movement and change, filled with undulations, waves, patterns of ripples and temporary "standing waves" like a river. Every observer is himself an integral function of this web. It never stops, never turns back on itself, and none of its patterns of which we can take conceptual snapshots are real in the sense of being permanent, even for the briefest moment of time we can imagine.
~from Tao: The Chinese Philosophy of Time & Change by Philip Rawson and Laszlo Legeza ~


  1. Oooh, must get this one -- sounds good!

  2. I find it interesting that even physics is discovering that the world is in fact made of waves...


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