Sunday, January 20, 2013


Need to take a break from doing studies, as in drawing studies. This was the one feature I looked forward to with my smart phone, and it's paying off.

Anyway, so random thought to fill the break - today I was thinking for some reason about the I-ching vs Confucious' Anelects.

I can remember literally nothing of the anelects, and almost every real world hangover of confucianism serves to not entice me back to reading it. I was told the Tokugawa government upheld a confucian ideal of warrior-scholars though, which possibly lead to putting the 'arts' into the japanese martial arts. I just can't remember any of the actual anelects.

I can remember racist Looney Tunes or early Disney cartoons portraying 'chinamen' offensively prefacing every sentence with 'confucious say...' but I can't remember any of the content of those sayings.

Whereas, Lao-Tzu, that's a different story alltogether. Considering I read both books at the same time easily over a decade ago, Lao-Tzu's sticks with me, just a little.

'The sage keeps their minds empty and their bellies full'
'he gives with this hand while he takes with that hand.'
'it is the part of the cup that is empty that makes a cup useful, it is the space between the spokes that makes the wheel...'

Sure, no doubt I'm paraphrasing, nor can I really read chinese characters, so maybe one was translated a lot more artistically than the other, but I suspect there's two possible causes for why Taosism stuck and Confuscianism didn't:

A) Confuscianism is highly unappealing to anybody raised under western individualism.
B) Lao-Tzu wrote in aphorisms.

I suspect it's a combination. But Lao-Tzu certainly if the translations are to be trusted, wrote short witty passages that are memorable, whereas Confucious said wordy almost witless value statements.

I selected a particularly bad example from wikisource, as is my want:

"The superior man bends his attention to what is radical. That being established, all practical courses naturally grow up. Filial piety and fraternal submission,-are they not the root of all benevolent actions?"

I have no idea what this means. Trim it down to the first sentence, and it seems appealing to my western mind. It means, pay attention to the risk takers. Coupled with the following sentences though it seems his idea of radical is 'listen to father', the last part is presumably a rhetorical question of which substantial research has been conducted and could now safely conclude for such an extraordinary claim -


Now similarly selecting at random one of the first excerpts from the Tao-Te-Ching on wikisource that I could determine was about something:

"All in the world know the beauty of the beautiful, and in doing this they have (the idea of) what ugliness is; they all know the skill of the skilful, and in doing this they have (the idea of) what the want of skill is."

Similarly science has rattified these extraordinary claims. It seems beauty is largely determined by symmetry, with some peppered evolutionary quirks - we for example all seem to share a preference for the reproductive promise of youth, but also we can find asymmetrical features such as scars attractive because they trigger a 'they must have good survival genes' response. Furthermore, MIT psychologists now know a lot about our frontal lobes ability to project, imagine and predict abscences of things among other brain tricks.

But my point really is that the simple form of the writing, means that aphorisms in the Tao-Te-Ching take much less effort to remember - just stuff like 'the beauty of the beautiful' is enough coding for our minds to reconstruct the essence of the statement... versus 'that being established, all practical courses naturally grow up.' this is how Kevin Rudd speaks, or any number of the politicians now adept at saying things that contain no information whatsoever but convey the vocabulary of an educated man.

This isn't any real or scholarly comparison of the two philosophies, just a mere comment on how one is written in a way that is easy to remember, one is not.

I don't know if eloquence is one of the compenents that generally makes it into the definition of 'intelligence' but it's a good thing to have.

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