Saturday, June 30, 2012

Zhuangzi Part 3

     Allison says that the transformation of the giant fish into the giant bird represents the transformation of the reader from reading the Zhuangzi.  He also says that the skepticism of the smaller animals is not just a representation of relativism, but is rather a representation of the 'small minded' reader who will not accept the idea of transformation.

     I will have to see what the rest of his interpretation of the Zhuangzi says.  Allison's book has so far not told me the secret of the big transformation the book portends.  Most books that do this end up in anticlimax:
"Always remember to check your references" or some crap will be the final message.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

The Zhuangzi, part 2

     So I got frustrated trying to understand what was going on in the Zhuangzi.  I then got on Amazon and bought three books on it.  The first one: Chuang-Tzu(Zhuangzi) For Spiritual Transformation, by Robert Allinson, claims that the Zhuangzi's inner chapters(1-7, the ones most likely written by the historical Zhuangzi) are intended not as a mere relativist treatise, but is meant to cause a 'spiritual transformation'.  I read the Tao Te Ching this way so I think this point of view has some merit. 

  Allison says that the mythological beginning is not just some obvious relativism, rather, it is intended to cause the reader to relax the analytic part of the mind and release the intuitive and aesthetic part of the mind.  He warns that the analytic part of the mind will be engaged in the text but that it is important to release it at the beginning.

  Allison says that the myth is not literally true but is true in some other sense.  I agree with Allison that the aesthetic sense is being engaged throughout the text since there are so many literary devices used.  Allison writes:

"If we brush aside the literary beginnings to 'get at the meat of the text' we will never find the meat.  Or, if we do, we will have no capacity for recognizing it when we do or for being able to digest it and assimilate its nutritive value."(pg. 29)

Allison goes on to say that the literary beginning is crucial to putting us in the state we need to absorb the work.

"We are being asked to learn how to cognize preconceptually.  While the myth cannot explain how  we are to do this, it is plainly an invitation to try.  In that which follows, I hope to make it very evident how the engaging of the aesthetic or preconceptual mind is a precondition for the proper understanding of the message of the Chuang-Tzu."(pg.29)

So, this book is not intended as dry philosophizing ala Western Philosophy.  Again, I go back to my reading of the Tao Te Ching and say that I see the intent there as well.  This philosophy is not merely about epistemology... 

  I'm looking forward to more of what Allison says since I don't know how to take the conversations with Confucious later on.  Perhaps Allison will give some insight here....

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Attempting to Understand the Zhuangzi

     I've read about 1.5 chapters of the Zhuangzi. I've found it very difficult to understand.  I have understood some things but I suspect I am missing much of the point.  So far I've gleaned:

1. Chapter 1 is an examination of perspective.  There is a huge bird/fish.  The bird is referred to as the roc.http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Roc_(mythology) in the translation I have.  It can turn from a bird to a fish of enormous proportions.  The chapter reminds me of some of the themes in the story by Voltaire called Micromegas -- an extraterrestial in this story has 73 senses.

2.  It is evident from the examples given in the chapter that we should consider that our notions of the universe depend on our scale and our nature.  The universe itself has a nature which we are not necessarily  constructed to understand, if indeed the whole notion of understanding can be applied to the universe at all.  From the Tao perspective, "understanding" is always relative to interest and language, leaving reality itself mysterious and in the background.  Hence we have the beautiful emphasis in the Tao Te Ching on the background.

3.  What is one to think of all this from an evolutionary perspective? When it comes to physics we can think of ourselves as constructing models of the universe that make good predictions with no necessary reference to reality -- Stephen Hawking takes this view.  I'm wrestling with how this logic fairs in evolution.  In evolution, our sense organs need to have some access to the world outside or our sense organs will not produce an adaptive advantage.  The theory itself seems to assume the Cartesian nightmare of life being but a dream is false.  Physics just constructs models.  Does evolution therefore have a metaphysical component that physics does not?  It assumes that our nervous system must have arisen from processes that can be understood by science.  A real external world must be exerting pressure on the nervous system.  Predators and nutrients really exist -- they must exist for evolution to make sense as a theory.  Thus, on a preliminary analysis evolution is more metaphysical than physics.  I envision a response that evolution is just a prediction making theory and its ontology is just as subject to positivistic criticism as the theories of physics.  If you think you can clarify this issue for me I would appreciate it.

3.  The evolutionary perspective, if accepted, seems to suggest that our minds and logic are of some use and not entirely untrustworthy as one gets from the early part of the Zhuangzi.  The Tao Te Ching has this as an undercurrent as well, but its emphasis is on the peaceful, soft life of the sage, not on logic chopping. 

4.  Certainly there is no reason to assume that our senses and mind can tell us about the fundamental nature of reality, since this understanding is probably not of evolutionary advantage.

5.  On the other hand, we seem to be able to comprehend things much larger than ourselves, so I'm not entirely convinced by the argument of the Zhuangzi in chapter 1.

6.   It's true that the sense organs we have may not capture many things about the universe, but if evolutinary theory is to be accepted, our sense organs provide us at least some access to reality -- the access necessary for us to have survived to this point.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Starting The Book of Chuang Tzu

I know it's been a few weeks since I've written anything here.  Sorry I fell through on my promise to keep telling you how stupid your life is.  But I have in the meantime been reading a number of books on world religions that I wanted to have more exposure to.  In particular I read the Koran, the Bhagavad Gita, and the Tao Te Ching several more times. I also read some analysis of these books.  I've decided, however, that the book that I am going to spend some time working on is the Chuang Tzu, usually called a Taoist book,  but the translator says there was no such thing as 'Taoism' at the time this was written. There was a body of folk wisdom that the author(s) of the Tao Te Ching and The Chuang Tzu drew from. 

Of the books I have read lately, the Tao Te Ching(I even got a book called the Dude De Ching, which gives a Big Lebowski reading) has had the biggest effect on me. It is difficult to grasp and short, so I thought I would try something a little longer and with stories, the Chuang Tzu.