Monday, October 31, 2011

Nature or Nurture?

Where does one draw the line between the natural and the artificial? A simple answer would be anything made by a human is artificial. As final as this response may seem, it ignores the fact that the artificial came out of the natural. That is, the natural eventually gave way to the artificial by means of evolution. Therefore anything artificial is really a product of the natural. But intuition nags us to consider the immense differences between man made things, and the other stuff that is left to itself. At what point in our evolution did we start becoming artificial? If there is a point, why the change? How did that natural cause give rise to a artificial effect? The first artificial expression began within a natural context. With that said, the natural did something artificial. Wouldn't that mean that the natural is artificial because it acted so? This problem can be applied to the supposed dichotomy between nature and culture (e.g. nature and nurture). How did nature give rise to culture and why the difference if one came from the other? If we define artificial as something made by humans, we must recognize that all life forms have their own kind of artificiality. To assume that the rest is natural and we are an intrusion into the picture is detrimental to our relationship to nature. That attitude is what manifests the exploitation of the environment for profit. If we can transition from seeing ourselves on the other side of a dichotomy with nature, to considering ourselves as one of the many expressions of it- albeit a very unique one- we can start to see how we are not only in the world but of it as well, thus feeling more at home in the cosmos.  

Friday, October 28, 2011

Hey, you never know!

Mike thinks Paul's lotto habit is a trap

Paul: I just got some lotto scratch offs!
Mike: Those are a waste of money.
P: I don't think so.
M: The are the chances of winning are so slim, you would have to fear thunder storms because getting struck by lightning is more likely then hitting it big with those money traps.
P: That's true but the more I get the better of a chance I have of winning.
M:(He laughs) That's exactly what I'm talking about. You will probably end up giving them as much as your supposed to win!
P: And it will even out for me!
M: All for nothing...
P: Really? I don't think so.
M: You spent all that money just to get it back. You could of saved it up instead.
P: But that would not have been anywhere near as fun.
M: Hmm
P: Saving is a good thing. But the trill I get when I win is almost as good. Plus there would be that chance of hitting it big which would be a such a rush ha ha.
M: Well you do have a point. But I still think I'll save my money instead. Yet I will indulge once in a while because as you said, it's a great feeling.
P: Great, get one now!

Let us wish Mike luck so as to not fall into a money trap  

Monday, October 24, 2011

The function of the Taoist Scriptures

Julian Jaynes wrote in his book The Origin of Consciousness that language grows by metaphor. In this sense one can see how all language is metaphor. For instance, one could look up the definition of a word in the dictionary and they would be directed to another word, the new word’s definition will refer to another word, and that final words definition happens to be the first word which was looked up. This shows how language can act as a closed loop. Yet language can also grow, and it seems to make sense how it grows by metaphor. One would juxtapose one or more phrases used in one sphere of activity onto a novel situation, thereby creating a new expression of reality. With that said, language is limited because of its non-literal grasp of reality.
The Tao as a literary device reminds us that language is limited because it can only grasp things by metaphor. Therefore, words are a poor approximation of reality. It helps us by pushing us to think without words, enabling us to grasp reality in its rawness without arbitrary social concepts. Notice, when one defines an object, as long as the definer does not question or attempt to think beyond that definition, the object will remain in its defined state. It is until one is pushed out of thinking with their preordained definitions that they are able to grasp more of the object in question which was left out by definition. Thus to define is to limit, and reality is limitless in expression. So the Tao can be seem to function, through its writings, as a reminder to people to not take their definitions of reality as set in stone. Yes they are there and exist to some extent, but they are not fixed- they change all the time. This literary and mystical tradition from a psychological perspective perhaps is a ideological balance to the rigid structure of Confucianism.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Form and Void

What gives rise to form? Can the unshaped be shaped? Is form always formed or does it oscillate with periods of void? If we come to know things only by contrast, and all things we see have form, how is it we can be so sure to differentiate between form and non-form. Perhaps we are mistaken and there is only form- the notion/condition of void as a type of form.
But it is imaginable that void can exist without form. Space devoid of planets, stars, and other objects is not an impossibility. Yet, this brings up the question: what makes an object an object? Asking this is important because we need to know what it is we are subtracting to create pure void. A simple answer is the stuff around us. But how is stuff measured? How could we count it and tell it apart from non-stuff? The long paradoxical answer is that what makes stuff itself is an arbitrary decision made by an observer. The stuff we perceive with our senses does not disclose the true identity of that stuff. What appears to be a multitude of shapes and forms is all reducible to varying frequencies of atomic pulsation. These atoms are made of ~99.99% space. The small area which has mass is the nucleus. This structure again also consists of ~99.9% space. And this pattern continues all the way down (well as far as we can look). Notice, the stuff is made up of space. So if stuff is space, then all is space. That then follows that all is void as space is void. But something about that does is not-just-quite-right. The solidarity we experience on the macro scale is the result of negatively charged electrons repealing each other, not stuff coming up against other stuff.
Where does this leave us? Stuff turns out to be space and space is the meaning of void, therefore all is void? Yet we can still perceive form as distinct from space? This is one of the riddles the universe offers us to ponder, leading us to realize our paradoxical nature. As a good mystery this leaves me still guessing. I think this sums it up well:
“O Shariputra, form does not differ from emptiness; emptiness does not differ from form. That which is form is emptiness; that which is emptiness is form. The same is true of feelings, perceptions, formations, consciousness” -The Heart Sutra

Form and void as polar opposites quickly reveal themselves to be nothing but a false dichotomy- two sides of the same coin.