Tao or Physis?

This entry was posted by on Wednesday, 13 January, 2010 at

Tao or Physis?

The last decades emphasized a surprising, inconvenient truth namely that the western civilization beyond misleading fireworks has no fundamentality, being based, like the modern knowledge, on a series of local, particular, disintegrative values / models / categories / principles.  For instance today we are compelled to admit the non-fundamentality of the Cartesian cogito, that wore down in intellection (calculus), deliberately and dangerously breaking away  from its emotional roots ( sentio, volio) – sure source of vitality / authenticity.  Under a careful examination, without any opportunistic prejudices, we will notice that politics, education, medicine, … they gradually lost their authenticity, being threaten by failing into counterfeit  ( a failing aided by computers ):  fictitious elections ( post-electoral neglecting the Whole’s concerns and aggressively promoting the party’s interests ), pseudo-management ( manipulation), deceptive medical assistance ( the lucrative manipulation of the symptoms, ignoring  or even thwarting the healing process), fake families, fake happiness ( drugs, comfort ), fake nutrition ( junk food ) , fake ( polluted ) water and so on.  The main danger that currently threatens the Western civilization is not constituted by super-bugs, pollution or super-terrorists but rather by an inertial, generalized, asymptomatic perpetuation of Cartesianism. How did we get here?

The methodological answer: a unfinished series of methodological ruptures silently detached the genuine living being from its original coherence.  Look at some of these ruptures: Plato – Ideas ( Forms ) and things. Plato and Aristotle: poiesis and techne (the first impulse of technologism);  Galileo: quality and quantity; Descartes: subject and object; matter and spirit; modal uncoupling: real / possible; Kant: science and wisdom; Marx: labor and capital; formalism: syntax and semantics, etc.  In view of a still possible recovery of fundamentality today we are determined to identify and promote with all our might and everywhere the authentic totalities, the alive ( including the alive in broad sense )  as well as the genuine living.  This given imperative is very difficult to fulfill because according to Heidegger our contemporaries  are still blinded by real and correlatively blind toward the Physis.

Tao / Taoism against modern approaches: follow Nature’s course!

What is Tao / Dao? Tao/Taoism represents a teaching of antic China elaborated about 4,800 years ago by the shaman Fu Hsi ( Fu Shi) and later systematized about 400 years BC by Lao-Tze in his book Tao Te Ching ( the original being lost and was orally transmitted ).  Chuang – Tze ( Zhuang-Tze) a contemporary of Lao-Tze also contributed to the systematization of the originary shamanic Taoism, the two authors providing a philosophical version ( Dao Jia) and one religious ( Dao Jiao).  In the following I will especially deal with the philosophical Taoism known as “ Lao-Zhuang Philosophy”.  To note that my Western mentors in Taoism were some of the best known translators / commentators namely: Lionel Giles, Alan Watts, Derek Lin and Jos Slabbert.

What is ( what is not) Tao?  Tao – the eternal genuine Tao cannot be defined nor named except by diminishing its spiritual essence of supreme, creative reality.  Or using Derek Lin’s translation  Chap. 1 ( Tao Te Ching published by Sky Light Paths in 2006 –  see www.Taoism.net, permission to quote granted):

“ The Tao that can be spoken is not the eternal Tao

The name that can be named is not the eternal name

The nameless is the origin of Haven and Earth

The named is the mother of myriad things”.

In the translations / comments studied by me, the answers concerning Tao’s nature are polarized, the two main aspects ( partially overlapped ) being:

  1. The methodological answer ( slightly  prevalent ): Tao is the way, method, principle ( “ Tao is the Great Principle ”) and
  2. The ontological answer equally concerning the creation of the whole Universe: Lao-Tze calls Tao “ the Mother of All Things ”, as well as the eternal return into the spirit of all expired material systems (things ): “ All things end in Tao, as rivers flow into the sea ”.  Some underlines: i. being  Nature’s own course ( but not  Nature itself ) Tao is impersonal  and without any ethical options, having nothing in common with the “ right ” and “ wrong ”; ii. Tao is creating the material world without any ( material ) involvement and especially without diminishing its spiritual essence, the return to Tao being always conditioned by a preliminary de-realization. Jos Slabbert:

“ All these thoughts, words arranged on paper

Come from the Tao and return to the Tao

Yet they do not touch it.” ( my own underline, FF )

The main methodological message of the Taoism for the contemporary world aims toward re-connecting the human with the Nature ( including with human intrinsic nature, neglected or excessively stressed ) being ruptured  by both  the forceful action of the technique as well as by the dualistic, unauthentic thinking ( linear- analytical reason) still promoted at a global scale by Cartesianism.  In this context the referential genuine alternative is constituted by  “ the non-dualistic world of the spirit.”

The key elements of the Tao:

  • Yin and Yang:  the whole Universe, from the smallest things to the cosmic phenomena and from the well being of an individual  to the great  social  movements  are based  on fluctuant  balancing  of these 2 energies   ( actions, human attitudes). “ Yin and Yang is Tao.” Look at some of the most usual manifestations attributed to these polarized energies – Yin / Yang mean respectively: dark / light, weak / strong, left / right, night / day, winter / summer, etc. In Fig.8 b is presented the Physis version of complementarity , introduced by me 2 decades ago as   the cones model emphasizing universal fuzziness or how the third states ( states  T ) are  generated.

  • Wu ( pure, spiritual state; emptiness ):  for a proper perception – and a proper following – of Tao’s tendency in a particular situation the sage should maintain his mind in a pure, quiet state, emptied of any prejudices, ideas, desires, and conflictual, arrogant impulses.  Derek Lin, Chap. 29:  “ the sage eliminates extremes, eliminates excess, eliminates arrogance.”  To maintain this un-alterated  peace of mind Chuang-Tze recommends to the sage : stay as far as possible from the “corrupt and chaotic” world .
  • Wu Wei ( the inaction principle, meditation, nondoing):  in a world full of tension, deeply marked by the fight for domination over Nature and other people, Tao Te Ching recommends meditation and abstinence. Do not force the things, the genuine control of  a local situation should be effortlessly accomplished, through a spiritual pathway.  Particularly, do no try to control or amend the Nature, it being a sacred instrument, already tuned: follow  natural course of the events, follow Nature ! Chap. 29: “The World is a sacre instrument / One cannot control it.”
  • Te (natural characteristics, Qualia ) “  Te ” this important word, being a component of the title of  Tao Te Ching, refers to the natural qualities distributed by Tao through a spiritual way to any living being.  This “ Te ” concept comes very close to the spirit itself of this blog, which is firmly asserting the existence in potentiality of an original situation / essence eliciting any system alive in a broad sense.  “ Te ” comes very close to the original Heideggerian essences which provide authenticity and salvation to the Dasein as well as to distinct potential forms ( Plato’s Eidos ) that according to Roger Penrose  guide, from the deepest existence, the forging and performing of the conscience / thinking.  For all these 3 methodological, convergent positions,  seems to be very suggestive the “ root motif “ invoked in a rather poetical phrase from Chap. 16: “ each returns to its roots.”  If these roots do exist and are efficiently involved both into the actualization and potentialization processes they can and should be introduced in every existential pattern which aims to completion.


Physis – as Genuine Living. What has been missing in Heidegger’s thinking?

Constantin Noica stated that Heidegger’s philosophy needed an integrative operator such as the preposition intru /into. I think that much more important for the great German philosopher would have been the addition of methodological category “physis situation” allowing him to approach the living being in broad sense, this way giving to Dasein historical relevance (continuity at different material organization steps) as well as universality : everything as living being not just the human ( animal, plant ), additionally including inanimate systems found in the physis situation, especially nature as physis, which would be re-incorporating the human being equally  as a physical and spiritual essence.

Traditionally the Nature itself has not been considered as a genuine, alive totality, the modern scientists often identifying nature as a whole with linear nature. I have a couple of typical examples  of truncated perception about nature / being, they having a  direct contribution to  lengthening the Cartesian vision “validity” about world as machine with several decades beyond any normal expectations:

Mechanicist perception: nature / being knows just mechanical causality – Fr. Bacon. Inference: any non-mechanical causality form ( final pattern, etc.) is / appears mystical or pseudo-scientific.

Linearist perception: nature / being  knows just linear reason – J.P. Sartre. In nature the generative process does not exist – G.W.F. Hegel. Inference: any version of alternative reason (generative, non-linear) represents just a human illegitimate investment.

Determinist perception: Stochasticity is extrinsic, non-essential, disturbing – G.W.F. Hegel. Inference: the modern probability is a state of the mind due to our ignorance concerning the system.  Recent developments in dynamics – especially stochastic dynamics – have no place within Cartesianism,  looking as a … contradictio in terminis.

Realist – dogmatic perception: Only things conceived as an object are real – A. Einstein. Inference: conscience, spirit, time, inseparability, etc. are not real,  being spooky, their scientific approach being inconsistent, unjustifiable.

Any reader in good faith will immediately notice that “spooky” are namely the above perceptions, coming from either an incomplete intrinsic knowledge or from a more recent methodological immobilism  fueled by a desire to block or delay the advancement of knowledge toward genuine living.

The category “alive in broad sense” promoting continuity / inseparability between physical / biological has become necessary (and possible) only within non-Cartesian methodology, this category being incompatible with linear – equilibrial reason which considers the systems as some closed, isolated, equilibrium formations, the milieu itself being considered isotropic, homogeneous and cold ( for details see the section “Alive in Broad Sense” ).

The physis situation is our contemporary alternative to Cartesian linear – equilibrial situation which constituted more then three centuries the implacable foundation of the modern science (physis comes from Greek “phyo” = to grow, to develop). Physis, this fundamental word of Occidental metaphysics ( according to M. Heidegger ) aims toward genuine living, a living along with original essence / situation. In physis situation ( meaning far form equilibrium and non-linear conditions ) the systems ( subsystems ) become unstable / sensitive to internal and external fluctuations and consequently susceptible to non-univocal, alternative selections, which can be represented using the bifurcation diagram; the point P, Fig. 6, named by me “ Prigogine Point is a point of biggest methodological significance, marking the entrance of the system in authentic historicity or, in an alternative expression, the moment in which the system becomes alive in broad sense.

Fig. 6 The diagram of non-univocal selection (asymmetrical bifurcation)

AP = linear trajectory of development;

PDF (PE) = non-linear trajectory

How the authentic historicity is generated within the alive in broad sense systems? The answer is provided by the following scheme – centered on non-linearity and non-univocal selection –   called by me “ organizational pathway ”:

Equilibrium ↔ Non-Equilibrium ↔ Non-Linearity ↔ Instability ↔ Non-Univocal Selection → Irreversibility → Historicity

Promotion of non-univocal selection and correlatively of authentic historicity in inanimated nature constitutes still a risky option from a methodological viewpoint, the majority of researchers going for a conventional Cartesian program of clear and distinct separation between animate / inanimate, historic and non-historic, final and non-final.

x

Beyond Descartes we encounter a fabulous world which we are just beginning to disentangle. The truly amazing fact is not as much that this non-Cartesian world really exists but rather that it is a fundamental one.

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