Archive for Language and philosophy

Palestra: wrestling of the mind

I played college basketball for Dartmouth for four years.  That means I had ample opportunity to play in Penn's hallowed Palestra.  All of the Ivy League schools had unique, distinctive gymnasia, and they remain sharply etched in my mind.  But the Palestra was something else altogether, as though it belonged in a different league, a different world.  Entering the vaulted space was intimidating enough by itself, but the fact that the bleachers (in)famously came right down to the edge of the floor, with no separation of the fans from the game, made it all the more nerve-wracking to play there, not to mention that the Penn teams were always extremely well coached and fiercely determined.

Since I do not know of any other sports arena in America that is called by such a classical, Greek sounding name, nor of any other that has such a distinguished history, it would be worth our while to inquire how it became so.

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Vandermeersch on the morphology and teleology of writing and thinking

As promised, here are the additional paragraphs from Vandermeersch on the roots of rationality in the earliest levels of Sinitic script.  They come from John Lagerwey who will be awarded the 3rd “Prix Vandermeersch” on November 18.  John explains:

I don’t have the time right now to give the full answer JPL deserves, but I am attaching the quotes from VDM’s Wangdao that I commented on recently during the day in his honor. This gives a number of key quotes from his work on “teleological” vs “morphological” and therefore constitutes the best answer to JPL at this time.

For the convenience of readers, I [VHM] am alternating Google translations with the original French text, section by section.  I have made a few small modifications that are marked with my initials, and a few tiny ones for idiomaticity that are not marked.

For the latest study and lexicographical material touching on the subject of this post, see below at the very bottom.

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Léon Vandermeersch, Wangdao ou La voie royale II Recherches sur l’esprit des institutions de la Chine archaïque, structures politiques, les rites

Léon Vandermeersch, Wangdao or The Royal Way II Research on the spirit of institutions in archaic China, political structures, rites

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Léon Vandermeersch (1928-2021) on the differences between Western and Chinese rationalities

Received today the newsletter of INSTITUT RICCI – Centre Sèvres, Paris.

Actualités de novembre 2022
 
Le 19 octobre dernier, l'Institut Ricci a rendu hommage le temps d'une journée au grand sinologue disparu il y a un an, Léon Vandermeersch. A partir de son étude de la divination et de la naissance de l’écriture en Chine ancienne, il a mené une réflexion de fond sur les différences entre rationalités occidentale et chinoise, qualifiées respectivement de « téléologique » et « morphologique ». La journée a permis d’évoquer son apport à la compréhension de la Chine et, surtout, de convaincre les participants qu’il faudrait un colloque plus substantiel qui permettrait une évaluation approfondie de cet apport.

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Greek argumentation: "Let's go back to the beginning"

The first time I read Zhuang Zi's (ca. 4th c. BC) debate with Hui Zi (370-310) about "The happiness of fish", when I got near the end I had an epiphany.  I felt like I was reading a debate between two Greek philosophers.  Here it is:

Zhuāng Zi yǔ Huì Zi yóu yú Háo liáng zhī shàng. Zhuāng Zi yuē: "Shūyú chū yóu cóngróng, shì yú lè yě." Huì Zi yuē: "Zǐ fēi yú, ān zhī yú zhī lè?" Zhuāng Zi yuē: "Zǐ fēi wǒ, ān zhī wǒ bù zhī yú zhī lè?" Huì Zi yuē: "Wǒ fēi zǐ, gù bù zhī zǐ yǐ; zǐ gù fēi yú yě, zǐ zhī bù zhī yú zhī lè quán yǐ." Zhuāng Zi yuē: "Qǐng xún qí běn. Zǐ yuē 'Rǔ ān zhī yú lè' yún zhě, jì yǐ zhī wú zhī zhī ér wèn wǒ, wǒ zhī zhī Háo shàng yě."

莊子與惠子遊於濠梁之上。莊子曰:「儵魚出遊從容,是魚樂也。」惠子曰:「子非魚,安知魚之樂?」莊子曰:「子非我,安知我不知魚之樂?」惠子曰:「我非子,固不知子矣;子固非魚也,子之不知魚之樂全矣。」莊子曰:「請循其本。子曰『汝安知魚樂』云者,既已知吾知之而問我,我知之濠上也。」  (source: 17.13)

Master Chuang and Master Hui were strolling across the bridge over the Hao River. "The minnows have come out and are swimming so leisurely," said Master Chuang. "This is the joy of fishes."

"You're not a fish," said Master Hui. "How do you know what the joy of fishes is?"

"You're not me," said Master Chuang, "so how do you know that I don't know what the joy of fishes is?"

"I'm not you," said Master Hui, "so I certainly do not know what you do. But you're certainly not a fish, so it is irrefutable that you do not know what the joy of fishes is."

"Let's go back to where we started," said Master Chuang. "When you said, 'How* do you know what the joy of fishes is?' you asked me because you already knew that I knew. I know it by strolling over the Hao."

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Grouping-think

According to a recent press release ("Scientists Have Established a Key Biological Difference Between Psychopaths and Normal People"),

Neuroscientists using MRI scans discovered that psychopathic people have a 10% larger striatum, a cluster of neurons in the subcortical basal ganglia of the forebrain, than regular people. This represents a clear biological distinction between psychopaths and non-psychopathic people.

The journal article (Choy et al., "Larger striatal volume is associated with increased adult psychopathy”) tells us that "Psychopathy was assessed using the PCL-R, which consists of 20 items rated by interviewers on a 3-point scale". (Wikipedia on PCL-R here). And from MRI scans, "segmentation of the caudate, putamen, nucleus accumbens, and globus pallidus was conducted together with the thalamus and cerebellum using standard FreeSurfer parcellation. Total striatal volumes were defined as the sum of the volumes of the four striatal subregions".

The generic plural "psychopaths" suggests a natural kind. And the phrase "a clear biological distinction" suggests well-defined and well-separated clusters of values on both neuro-anatomical and social-psychological dimensions. But what the researchers found was two weakly-correlated variables, each an amalgam of several measurements or evaluations, without any strong indication of clustering. Their Figure 3 (n=108):

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The paradox of hard and easy

If you're interested in one-way functions and Kolmogorov complexity, you'll probably want to read this mind-crunching article:

"Researchers Identify ‘Master Problem’ Underlying All Cryptography", by Erica Klarreich, Quanta Magazine (April 6, 2022)

The existence of secure cryptography depends on one of the oldest questions in computational complexity.

To ease our way, here are brief descriptions of the two key terms:

In computer science, a one-way function is a function that is easy to compute on every input, but hard to invert given the image of a random input. Here, "easy" and "hard" are to be understood in the sense of computational complexity theory, specifically the theory of polynomial time problems. Not being one-to-one is not considered sufficient for a function to be called one-way….

(source)

In algorithmic information theory (a subfield of computer science and mathematics), the Kolmogorov complexity of an object, such as a piece of text, is the length of a shortest computer program (in a predetermined programming language) that produces the object as output. It is a measure of the computational resources needed to specify the object, and is also known as algorithmic complexity, Solomonoff–Kolmogorov–Chaitin complexity, program-size complexity, descriptive complexity, or algorithmic entropy. It is named after Andrey Kolmogorov, who first published on the subject in 1963.

(source)

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Taipei 101 and the I ching

From Tom Ace:  "It looks like hexagram 43 is at the top of Taipei 101 in the attached photo.  I remember you saying in 2017 that you and your brother hoped to complete a translation of the I Ching. I hope that's still possible."

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(T)horny Platonists

From Bryan Van Norden:

There is a funny story about a recent publication of mine.  The Chinese translation of my essay, "Why Are Platonists So Horny? What Murdoch’s 'The Nice and the Good' Can Teach Us" just came out.  However, my hard-working translator mistakenly rendered "horny" in my original title (sèmí 色迷) as "thorny" (jíshǒu 棘手)! I told the translator, and he said that he will fix the mistake, so in case it is changed soon online, a screenshot of the original is copied below.


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Data, information, knowledge, insight, wisdom, and Conspiracy Theory

The relationships among these different types of knowing has always been something that intrigued me.  Now it's all spelled out diagrammatically:

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Confucius didn't mean that

We often encounter fake "Oriental wisdom" that purports to come from the ancient sages.  So much of it clogs the internet that it is very hard to keep track of what is genuine and what is false.  And then there's the (in)famous pseudo-linguistics of the "Crisis = danger + opportunity" trope which has captured the occidental imagination.

Another type of distortion and misinformation concerning Chinese thought are actual quotations of an ancient sage's words that are misused and misinterpreted to imply something other than what was originally intended.

In "Things Confucius Never Said", The World of Chinese (10/9/21), Sun Jiahui has assembled a group of five such abused quotations attributed to Confucius.  Since she has done such a superb job of presenting them, I will make only minor adaptations in giving them here.

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Judo: martial arts neologism or ancient philosophical term?

The term "judo", which sport / martial art ("as a physical, mental, and moral pedagogy" [source]) was only created in 1882 by Jigoro Kano 嘉納治五郎 (1860-1938).  What I find amazing is that jūdō / MSM róudào 柔道 ("soft / flexible / gentle / supple / mild / yielding way") comes right out of the Yìjīng 易經 (Book / Classic of Change[s]).  Of course, traditional Japanese scholars have always been learned in the Chinese classics, so it shouldn't be too surprising that they would draw on the classics for terminology and ideas that had great meaning for them.  But I'm curious whether Jigoro Kano explicitly referred to the Yìjīng in any of his writings about jūdō 柔道.

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Om, sumo, and the universality of sound

From Zihan Guo:

A Japanese expression I came upon in a reading from Takami sensei's class reminded me of the "om" you mentioned weeks ago in our class.

阿吽の呼吸(aun'nokokyū あうんのこきゅう)
 
It refers to the synchronization of breathing of sumo opponents before a match. I read about this in an article about an interview with a sumo wrestler. But the "aun あうん" part lingered in my mind. Then I realized that it was the Japanese transliteration of the "om" that you were telling the class that encompassed all sounds:  "a" and "un" signify the beginning and end of the cosmos respectively, or so wikipedia explains. The Japanese phrase means a harmonious, non-verbal communication.

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Graphic forms for wú ("none; no; not") and qì ("vital energy") in ancient Chinese texts

[This is a guest post by Denis Christopher Mair]

Regular character versions of the Yijing (Classic / Book of Changes) use the character 旡 instead of 無 for wú ("none; no; not; nothing; nihility"). So 旡 is not really a simplified character. I have seen 旡 in Daoist contexts. The character 旡 evokes an atmosphere of antiquity. Some Daoist texts have two different words for qi/ch'i ("vital energy"). One is written 氣, and the other is written with 旡 over a four-dot fire radical. (Some Daoist texts use 炁 wherever the context is about internal disciplines.) This distinction is sometimes explained by saying that 氣 is "acquired" (hòutiān 後天) energy, and 炁 is "innate" (xiāntiān 先天) energy. In Tiāndì jiào 天帝教 ("Lord of Universe Church," a religious organization in Taiwan), the phrase qì qì yīnyūn 氣炁氤氳* sometimes comes up: "the intertwining of acquired and innate energies," which is something that happens in meditation. Sometimes it is fancifully likened to ground mist mingling with low clouds.

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