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Coronavirus meets the limits of logic

Wednesday, May 20th, 2020

[ by Charles Cameron — this one’s strictly for fun ]
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We have my friend the bead game designer JustKnecht to thank fo passing along this gem:

That’s a screen-grab, it has to be — and it’s pretty astonishing to find the chyron to a screen-grab referencing Bertie Russell, let alone Russell’s paradox. I must have grabbed dozens of chyrons a few months back, when I was looking for game and sports metaphors for warfare — I never saw anything like this!

Kudos!

BTW, it’s an ouroboros paradox too, isn’t it?

Words are Deeds, Coronavirus instance

Tuesday, April 28th, 2020

[ by Charles Cameron — establishing the proper connections between words and realities — things, places, persons, emotions, actions — has long been a preoccupation for poets, philosophers and the curious more generally ]
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From a New Yorker piece, titled Seattle’s Leaders Let Scientists Take the Lead. New York’s Did Not
By Charles Duhigg
The initial coronavirus outbreaks on the East and West Coasts emerged at roughly the same time. But the danger was communicated very differently.

— here’s the relevant context:

The first diagnosis of the coronavirus in the United States occurred in mid-January, in a Seattle suburb not far from the hospital where Dr. Francis Riedo, an infectious-disease specialist, works. When he heard the patient’s details—a thirty-five-year-old man had walked into an urgent-care clinic with a cough and a slight fever, and told doctors that he’d just returned from Wuhan, China—Riedo said to himself, “It’s begun.”

For more than a week, Riedo had been e-mailing with a group of colleagues who included Seattle’s top doctor for public health and Washington State’s senior health officer, as well as hundreds of epidemiologists from around the country; many of them, like Riedo, had trained at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, in Atlanta, in a program known as the Epidemic Intelligence Service. Alumni of the E.I.S. are considered America’s shock troops in combatting disease outbreaks. The program has more than three thousand graduates, and many now work in state and local governments across the country. “It’s kind of like a secret society, but for saving people,” Riedo told me.

And here’s the key —

Upon learning of the first domestic diagnosis, he told his staff—from emergency-room nurses to receptionists—that, from then on, everything they said was just as important as what they did. One of the E.I.S.’s core principles is that a pandemic is a communications emergency as much as a medical crisis.

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D’oh — coronavirus is a communicable disease..

On second thoughts.. that’s the point, isn’t it? We call diseases “communicable” because they spread in a manner that’s analogous with the spread of ideas — or fears, for that matter — through human communications networks.

One or other, both or neither?

Friday, January 31st, 2020

[ by Charles Cameron — Modi or Trump, special or chosen? — with thanks to The Emissary on BrownPundits — and closing in on the shining suchness of the Tathagata ]
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Modi of India, Trump of USA?

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Trump of USA proclaims himself the Chosen One, while Modi of India’s supporters claim Modi is the Special One.

Who knew?

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Sources:

  • The Emissary, The Special One
  • Giphy, I am the Chosen One
  • **

    Buddhist logic from the beginning differs from its Aristotelian cousin, featuring the chatushkoti or tetralemma:

    India in the fifth century BCE, the age of the historical Buddha, and a rather peculiar principle of reasoning appears to be in general use. This principle is called the catuskoti, meaning ‘four corners’. It insists that there are four possibilities regarding any statement: it might be true (and true only), false (and false only), both true and false, or neither true nor false.

    Hence my title, One or other, both or neither?

    Oh ah:

    speaking of the Buddha, Nagarjuna states that the Buddha’s teaching is “emptiness is suchness, not suchness, both suchness and not suchness, and neither suchness nor not suchness.”

    Furthermore:

    The suchness of the Tathagata is the suchness of all phenomena.

    Rumor therefore has it that there’s a fifth possibility, a refuge from all dualities: the shining suchness of the Tathagata.

    **

    No, really — please comment!

    Chuang-tzu or Zhuangzi, it’s a laughing matter [review]

    Sunday, July 28th, 2019

    [ by Charles Cameron — cross-posted at BrownPundits — Zhuangzi, a light-hearted philosopher dancing to his own laughter, illuminated by CC Tsai ]
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    Zhuangzi: The Way of Nature
    translated by Brian Bruya, illustrated by CC Tsai
    Princeton University Press, 2019
    US $ 22.95

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    You may be acquainted with the yin-yang symbol — or as it’s more properly called, the Tai-chih or Taiji — but here’s CC Tsai‘s version, with dragon:

    That’s the style of CC Tsai‘s illustrations, which — rather than Brian Bruya‘s translations — are the featured aspect of this version of the Zhuangzi: it also encapsulates the essence of Zhuangzi‘s thought.

    Here’s the comic book version of a very comic work of profound, non-invasive philosophy.

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    Zhuangzi is a Taoist, one who would allow the arising and fading away of things in their natural order, with as little thought-commentyary, let alone intervention, as piossible — given the human tendency to go round and round in circles even while sitting still — Laozi‘s Tao Te Ching is the simple and direct exposition of this way of approaching and appreciating life, while Zhuangzi presents the same appreciation in the formm of quizzical tales and (naturally, absent) morals..

    Ah. Thus the seagull, Laozi tells Confucius, who came to discuss benevolence and righteousness, doesn’t get white by soaping yup and washing itself, nor does the crow get black by dipping itself in ink: benevolence, similarly, is not a matter of soap and water — it simply arises where it arises.

    You get the feeling Laozi wouldn’t mind having left it at the seagulls doing what they do, and likewise with the crows — but Confucius dropped by and asked about benevolence and righteousness, and Laozi responded as was only benevolent and polite..

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    My favorite story in all of Chuang Tzu / Zhuangzi is the story of Lord Wen-hui’s cook Ting, who taught him the natural way of things while cutting up an ox. In Burton Watson‘s translation:

    Cook Ting was cutting up an ox for Lord Wen-hui. At every touch of his hand, every heave of his shoulder, every move of his feet, every thrust of his knee – zip! zoop! He slithered the knife along with a zing, and all was in perfect rhythm, as though he were performing the dance of the Mulberry Grove or keeping time to the Ching-shou music.

    “Ah, this is marvelous!” said Lord Wen-hui. “Imagine skill reaching such heights!”

    Cook Ting laid down his knife and replied, “What I care about is the Way, which goes beyond skill. When I first began cutting up oxen, all I could see was the ox itself. After three years I no longer saw the whole ox. And now – now I go at it by spirit and don’t look with my eyes. Perception and understanding have come to a stop and spirit moves where it wants. I go along with the natural makeup, strike in the big hollows, guide the knife through the big openings, and follow things as they are. So I never touch the smallest ligament or tendon, much less a main joint.

    “A good cook changes his knife once a year-because he cuts. A mediocre cook changes his knife once a month-because he hacks. I’ve had this knife of mine for nineteen years and I’ve cut up thousands of oxen with it, and yet the blade is as good as though it had just come from the grindstone. There are spaces between the joints, and the blade of the knife has really no thickness. If you insert what has no thickness into such spaces, then there’s plenty of room – more than enough for the blade to play about it. That’s why after nineteen years the blade of my knife is still as good as when it first came from the grindstone.

    “However, whenever I come to a complicated place, I size up the difficulties, tell myself to watch out and be careful, keep my eyes on what I’m doing, work very slowly, and move the knife with the greatest subtlety, until – flop! the whole thing comes apart like a clod of earth crumbling to the ground. I stand there holding the knife and look all around me, completely satisfied and reluctant to move on, and then I wipe off the knife and put it away.”

    “Excellent!” said Lord Wen-hui. “I have heard the words of Cook Ting and learned how to care for life!”

    **

    That’s a long-ish quote, but its rollicking good humor will have carried you through it, and I wanted to give you a sense of the Zhuangzi as I have known and loved it — to taste it in comparison with CC Tsai‘s vision / version of the same tale, as represented in a couple of frames from his telling:

    **

    So now we have Burton Watson‘s “the blade of the knife has really no thickness. If you insert what has no thickness into such spaces, then there’s plenty of room” and Brian Bruya‘s “my knife glides in and out between the bone joints, moving as it pleases: the cow suffers no pain and, in the end, doesn’t even know it’s dead.”

    Pretty remarkable, either way — but that’s in English, and who knows what contortions a translator must make to move from Chinese into English? Watson‘s Chuang-tsu is closer to Lao-tsu, if you compare the statement of principle to its embodiment in an anecdote:

    Ursula Le Guin‘s translation of the Tao Te Ching is even more succinct:

    The immaterial enters the impenetrable..

    No wonder cook Ting’s vorpal blade went snicker-snack, to borrow a phrase from Lewis Carroll‘s poem, Jabberwocky. And come to think of it, Lewis Carroll, aka Charles Lutwidge Dodgson, the Christ Church, Oxford logician, may indeed be the English language’s native equivalent of the Chinese Zhuangzi.

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    As I hope I have indicated, Chuang Tzu / Zhuangzi, even in translation, is a writer of enormous charm and insight, and CC Tsai‘s presentation marries the conventions of the comic book with classical Chinese artistry to provide an exemplary introduction to one of the world’s great philosopher-humorists.

    Delightful. Warmly recommended.

    The Ideal and the Practical — the Practice

    Wednesday, June 19th, 2019

    [ by Charles Cameron — cross-posted from BrownPundits in response to a friend’s comment there ]
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    I’d written a response to @AnAn and included a quote from the Chuang Tzu’s chapter on Lord Wen-hui and what he learned from his Cook Ting, and wanted to throw in the following DoubleQuote — but graphics seem to be discouraged in the Comment sections here, so I’ve opened this post for the purpose:

    The thing is, Lao Tzu offers us the ideal statement, formulated in terms of an impenetrable absence of space, and an absence of substance to the point of non-existence — while Chuang Tzu, peering over Lord Wen-hui’s shoulder right there in Cook Ting’s kitchen, offers us the same insight, couched in terms of there being “spaces between the joints” and his knife having “really no thickness” — Chuang Tzu’s measureless insight penetrates Lao Tzu’s impenetrable absolutes to show us there’s room for play there — “room — more than enough for the blade to play about in”.

    If we bear these two versions of the same idea — formulated ideally and in practical terms by the two principle philosopher-poets of the Taoist school — in mind when our thoughts run up against the impracticality of an ideal, we may find, like Cook Ting, that we too have room enough room to play in.


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