Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Back on the Bridge: Knowing by Strolling

Scott Bradley

I have several times here engaged with the wonderful story about Zhuangzi's and Huizi's discussion about the happiness of fish as they strolled along a bridge over the River Hao. Perhaps what I find so intriguing about it is its simplicity, on the one hand, and its profundity, on the other. Here's a summary of that discussion:
Seeing the fish darting about in the river below, Zhuangzi remarks that this is the happiness of fish. Huizi asks how Zz could possibly know the happiness of fish since he isn't a fish. Zz replies that Huizi isn't he and thus cannot know what he knows or does not know. Huizi agrees and says that this proves his point that Zz also cannot know the happiness of fish. Zz replies that Huizi, when he originally asked the question, already knew the answer: He knows it by seeing them while strolling along the bridge over the River Hao.
I think what is primarily under discussion here are two ways of knowing, cognitive and organic (intuitive). Huizi, as we know, is a great debater, a sophist and logician who dwells in the world of logic and words. As logicians, he and others of his school are (in)famous for using logic to demonstrate the absurdity of existence. (Zhuangzi, for his part, takes their same arguments to show the absurdity of reason when used as a measure of existence.) As sophists, they are able to debate either side of an issue; they are removed from the actual world of direct experience. They engage and filter the world through words and ideas.

Zhuangzi, on the other hand, takes a more phenomenological approach; he experiences the world participatorially; he is organically connected with the world. He knows the happiness of fish because he feels their happiness. He and they are happy together in the world. His strolling and their swimming are equally the joyful experience of being. And this is a reality where reason cannot go. Huizi has a similar experience, of course, only he'd rather live in a world of ideas; rather than be happy together with the fish, he prefers to debate. Did he even see the fish?

Zhuangzi also enjoys the debate; this is the happiness of philosophers, if only they can experience it in the context of their rootedness in a reality beyond words. "Where is the man who has forgotten words, that I might have some words with him?" asks Zhuangzi as he stands before the grave of Huizi.

This is the philosophy of Zhuangzi in a nutshell: Return to the pre-cognitive joy of being. Surrender back into the matrix from which you arose and to which you shall ultimately return. Rejoice together with the fish and trees, rocks and stars.

You can check out Scott's writings on Zhuangzi here.

1 comment:

  1. Nice post. The story is really cool but I think it would take me some contemplation to really understand it. The background of the people in the story is helpful though.



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