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.