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Taoism for Dummies, edit pls?

DaPhatConductor

TRIBE Promoter
OK, this is an unfinished essay for my Chinese Philosophy course. It's a page short because of the way I write tho so any suggestions on what to elaborate on would be appreciated.

I Object to the Subject, So Don’t Subject Me to Your Object!

"Once I, Zhuang Zhou, dreamed that I was a butterfly and was happy as a butterfly. I was conscious that I was quite pleased with myself, but I did not know that I was Zhou. Suddenly I awoke, and there I was, visibly Zhou. I do not know whether it was Zhou dreaming that he was a butterfly of the butterfly dreaming that it was Zhou. Between Zhou and the butterfly there must be some distinction. [But one may be the other.] This is called the transformation of things.
(The Zhuangzi Ch.2)"


This passage taken from the Zhuangzi encapsulates many central aspects of the spirit of Taoist philosophy; the arbitrariness of belief, rejection of all distinctions, the inherent duality of all thought, supreme skepticism, the ideal of becoming one with nature, and the simplicity and elegance of writing in the Taoist style. This passage also has great personal meaning for me because I have been similarly touched by a different dream, which I will elaborate upon later.

The most obvious aspect of the butterfly dream is that it illustrates the inherent arbitrariness of the distinctions between subject and object in a simple and rationally flawless way. No argument can ever possibly be made that could convince the dreamer of such a dream that they are unquestionably one way or the other. This shows that there is a layer of assumption beneath every belief that is inescapable within the realm of language and concept.

When Rene Descartes sought in his Meditations on First Philosophy to obtain a firm grounding for his epistemology he threw himself into a state of great doubt and skepticism, from which he said:

“I perceive so clearly that there exist no certain marks by which the state of waking can ever be distinguished from sleep, that I feel greatly astonished; and in amazement I almost persuade myself that I am now dreaming”
(Meditations On First Philosophy, Meditation 1).


This shows thinking parallel to Zhuangzi, but Descartes falls short when he later asserts that being a thing that thinks is enough to prove that one exists. Both thinkers realize that one cannot ever be certain one is not dreaming, but Zhuangzi goes a step further. Zhuangzi learns much more from this state of doubt than does Descartes, and he demonstrates the implications of this learning in chapter 25 of The Zhuangzi:

"That there is some first cause (of the universe), or that no first cause would make it, these are the ultimate presuppositions our doubt could arrive at. When I look for its origin, the past is without limit; when I look for its end, the future is without stop. Without limit and stop, it is the absence of words, because words share the same principle as things. That there is some first cause (of the universe), or that no first cause would make it, these speculations were based upon words, which begins and ends with things. "
(The Zhuangzi, Ch.25)

When Zhuangzi refers to words and things here he is referring to the categorization necessitated by concepts. All concepts have a beginning and an end, but the universe does not. Zhuangzi’s doubt has led him to a very meaningful conclusion: the absolute cannot be encapsulated by concept or language.

In the early twentieth century the renowned philosopher of education Jerome Bruner centered his teachings around the very Taoist formula “To perceive is to conceptualize, to conceptualize is to categorize.”. Zhuangzi would commend him. All conception, as categorization, necessitates the division of the universe into that domain which is within the concept, and that which is beyond. Language is an extension of concept and follows the same law. To Zhuangzi there is only the Tao, which gives rise to the One, the Great Ultimate. It is the indivisible absolute, and goes on without limit or stop. Conceptualization is dividing, and can therefore only ever lead to relative truth and not the absolute truth of Tao. In order to have thought one has to accept a position on one side of a division or the other, making all truth or falsehood gleaned from thought necessarily rest on an assumption at some level. Categorization does not allow for paradox, nor does it allow for any thought outside of the paradigm of the divided, thus conceptualization and language are completely inadequate tools for trying to understand Tao.

To understand the Tao is to know nature and act in accordance with it, wu-wei, to take no unnatural action. Zhuangzi’s dream of becoming the butterfly is a perfect example of this ideal. The butterfly represents a pure, natural existence, a state which we can only guess at using concept. What can we really know about the butterfly? Could the butterfly act against nature, or is it truly practicing wu-wei ? How do we know that it is truly one with nature? Surely it is a dramatic assumption to assert that it does not conceptualize at some level? How is it supposed to find food without dividing the universe into the categories of edible and inedible? Can it know that it is hungry without a concept of interiority and exteriority? What is it like to be the butterfly? What is it ‘like’ to be anything?

This brings me to my own, somewhat similar dream, a beautiful and simple experience with profound and far reaching implications, it shattered my conception of reality: Once I, Dylan Lane, dreamed that I was my VCR. During the period of the dream in which I was wholly the VCR I had no identity, no perception of time or space, no human senses. There was only sense of being, an is-ness of VCR. A subtle reality filled my being and there I was, or rather, there “I” was not, there was simply experience. Later in the dream I began to vibrate between the mind of Dylan and the is-ness of my previous state. It seemed that my legs and feet were those of a man, yet my torso and head were still a VCR. It is at this point that I realized that I ‘was’ a VCR and the tyranny of conceptualization, which abhors a paradox, tore us apart. This bizarre moment of being half-Dylan and half-VCR was extremely foreign to me and I was sharply awakened by its alien touch. When I try to remember what it is like to be the VCR that paradoxical moment is as far as I can go as a man, yet there undoubtedly exists an experience of being a VCR. This simple dream made it abundantly clear to me that there is experience beyond perception.

I was unsettled by this strange experience and it has forever changed me. Before the dream I had always known that there was reality beyond conceptualization, but I only knew it in an abstract and conceptual way. This level of reality is truly beyond all conceptualization and is unquestionably as real as any other experience. Even if it were attained by my mind merely imagining what it would be like to be the VCR, this experience of being a VCR without any perception of being a VCR was real, although it was only perceivable from the paradox that forced me to awake. The immediate question posed by the VCR dream is about the distinction between animate and inanimate consciousness, as opposed to the butterfly dream, which questions the subject/object distinctions, but the underlying message is the same: that there is an inherent arbitrariness to all belief in a universe without limit or stop.

So yea, there it is... any advice would be wicked. Thanks for reading.
 

DaPhatConductor

TRIBE Promoter
This is what it is like to attack the absolute with concept:



It is only achieved by being nothingness ;) ...hee hee. Oh the Cheese!

OK, now it's tme for some Kierkegaard! Yarrr!
 

wayne kenoff

TRIBE Member
You highlight the limit of language to communicate what 'is'

This is the aspect of philosophy that I find frustrating. It is limited by the language we use to discuss it. I dig Taoism, and one of the reasons is the unpretentiousness of the first two lines of the Tao te Ching.

Even the finest teaching is not the Tao itself.
Even the finest name is insufficient to define it.

Immediately, it's established that the book is not the divine work of God communicating through a prophet, just a man attempting to describe the 'Tao' with mere words.
 

DaPhatConductor

TRIBE Promoter
Yep. Taoism rocks. Buddhism is a lot like that too. It can be somewhat frustrating at times, but it is a very liberating realization as well. It frees you from the tyranny of science, reason and consensus reality. Here's the Conclusion to the essay, I fixed all of the little grammatical, vocabulary, and stylistic things but I don't wanna post the whole thing again:

"Perception, conceptualization, categorization, and indeed all thought are like a glass ceiling between us and the absolute. It seems perfectly clear to us, but there is something wrong here. The absolute is indivisible, but the unity of being and non-being is a conflict of categories, thus Tao is the very definition of a paradox. It cannot be percieved or acted upon, only experienced. Take a deep breath. Shattering the glass ceiling of concepts and becoming the rapture of broken ideas tearing you apart is the way. All is silent here, the senses and perceptions are not invited, there is only the Tao, the One.

"The Tao that can be spoken is not the true Tao" (Laozi Ch.1)"
 
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DaPhatConductor

TRIBE Promoter
PS, I know my english sucks shit, i'm working on that part tomorrow morning ;) Soo many run on sentences, structural problems and poor vocabulary choices.. aieee....

Hope it's done by 5!
 

wayne kenoff

TRIBE Member
Originally posted by DaPhatConductor
Yep. Taoism rocks. Buddhism is a lot like that too. It can be somewhat frustrating at times, but it is a very liberating realization as well. It frees you from the tyranny of science, reason and consensus reality. Here's the Conclusion to the essay, I fixed all of the little grammatical, vocabulary, and stylistic things but I don't wanna post the whole thing again:

"Perception, conceptualization, categorization, and indeed all thought are like a glass ceiling between us and the absolute. It seems perfectly clear to us, but there is something wrong here. The absolute is indivisible, but the unity of being and non-being is a conflict of categories, thus Tao is the very definition of a paradox. It cannot be percieved or acted upon, only experienced. Take a deep breath. Shattering the glass ceiling of concepts and becoming the rapture of broken ideas tearing you apart is the way. All is silent here, the senses and perceptions are not invited, there is only the Tao, the One.

"The Tao that can be spoken is not the true Tao" (Laozi Ch.1)"

I enjoyed the essay. Honestly, I have no idea what philosophy professors look for, so constructive criticism is not forthcoming. good luck.
 

Alita

TRIBE Member
Oh my God - I'm in your class!!!! :D

Isn't this course great - besides the fact that sometimes I have a little bit of trouble understanding the Prof...the content of the course is awesome


Ps - I did my essay on the Mencius ( man is originally good) and Hsun tzu (man is originally bad...desiring natural things) quotes....I found them easier to compare with Western philosopies of Aristotle and Plato....but holy shit your essay looks good, I'm not used to writing essays like this - Im more of a techincal paper person :p !
 

ian

TRIBE Member
Originally posted by DaPhatConductor
This is what it is like to attack the absolute with concept:



It is only achieved by being nothingness ;) ...hee hee. Oh the Cheese!

OK, now it's tme for some Kierkegaard! Yarrr!

I love the .gif file!
 
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Alita

TRIBE Member
Originally posted by DaPhatConductor
Crazy! I sit up at the front, come say hi some day. I usually wear bandanas or toques and have square glasses.

Cheers
Roger that - I think I may know who you are. I sit at the back... dark Asian girl with the eagle eyes :p

Good luck today and Wednesday btw!
 

aether

TRIBE Member
my philo. geek friend wanted to reply to this, but despite registering 6 months ago, her account was never enabled. Anyways, in the interests of constructive criticism:

jen says:

1. it's not your sentences that are run-on, it's your thought that is. it just flows from one point and seems to only stay on that point but without actual direction. i guess you're trying to make your taoist-based paper very 'tao' but at the same time this is a philosophy paper, not a poetics expression. you have to make clear arguments and counterarguments

2. your brief counterargument provided through descartes is stunted by the fact that you do not provide enough support (ie. examples) to show why descartes thinks differently than a taoist. you should be more in depth with an example or an explanation of cartesian skepticism.

3. everytime you end with an important 'thought' or 'statement', you should either provide the best concrete example you can think of to support that thought/statement - either right before or right after it.

4. i'm not sure what year this course is in, but if it is first or second, you should provide explanations for certain terms you use in more detail - such as 'wu wei'. do not assume others know what it means and just skim by it as if it isn't important because it is.

5. again, your introduction of jerome bruner is stunted by a brief mention of who he is and how he thinks similarly to a taoist, yet no explanation of the specifics of his philosophical thought that exemplify taoist thought. that is, you do not provide more than one little taoist-like quote, leaving readers wondering what bruner means by this. you should provide an example of bruner's teaching philosophy before jumping into Zhuangzi .

addendum: you should make very clear what your thesis is right at the beginning of the paper.
 

PosTMOd

Well-Known TRIBEr
When you dreamed you were a VCR, how did you know you were a VCR? A sense of self must have been involved, that self being a VCR, otherwise, you could have been anything (maybe even a VCR).... you merely perceived yourself to be a VCR. How is being a VCR different from being a butterfly, or a laser printer, or anything? You can only know what it is like to not be you (whether you are a VCR or butterfly or Dylan), but you cannot know what it is like to be anything else.
 

The Tesseract

TRIBE Member
Originally posted by PosTMOd
When you dreamed you were a VCR, how did you know you were a VCR? A sense of self must have been involved, that self being a VCR, otherwise, you could have been anything (maybe even a VCR).... you merely perceived yourself to be a VCR. How is being a VCR different from being a butterfly, or a laser printer, or anything? You can only know what it is like to not be you (whether you are a VCR or butterfly or Dylan), but you cannot know what it is like to be anything else.
Fish eh?
 
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JMan

TRIBE Member
Originally posted by wayne kenoff
You highlight the limit of language to communicate what 'is'

This is the aspect of philosophy that I find frustrating. It is limited by the language we use to discuss it. I dig Taoism, and one of the reasons is the unpretentiousness of the first two lines of the Tao te Ching.

Even the finest teaching is not the Tao itself.
Even the finest name is insufficient to define it.

Immediately, it's established that the book is not the divine work of God communicating through a prophet, just a man attempting to describe the 'Tao' with mere words.
That's actually what I like about it... what "is" cannot be fully communicated because it goes beyond the screens and filters of perception. It can only be understood when free of the bondage of "understanding" and "edumacation" - language fits into those categories.
 

DaPhatConductor

TRIBE Promoter
Originally posted by aether
my philo. geek friend wanted to reply to this, but despite registering 6 months ago, her account was never enabled. Anyways, in the interests of constructive criticism:
Wicked! Thanks so much, those are all excellent points. I have actually only written one philosophical essay prior to this one, so I'm very green still.

Please give your friend much luv for the assistance :)

Timo: Re: the VCR dream. I did not have any sense of being a VCR while i was actually the VCR, it was only the paradoxical moment of gradually realizing that I was both the VCR and Dylan that i could percieve. In that moment I had a bizarre non-memory of being wholly the VCR that is utterly incomprehensible as a concept. i can't really explain it, but that moment was so strange that the slightest conceptualization was enough to snap me out of it, and my dream. I have since tried to meditate myself into a similar state and have had no success... It seems that the more I try, and the more I think about it, the further I get from being the VCR again. There is nothing I want more, but I think that's a big part of the problem ;) If u know what I mean.
 
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