As readers may or may not know, Yang and I participate in our university’s boxing club and compete at the collegiate level. We have always liked boxing but I’m sure we never understood major aspects of the sport, such as intending to KO opponents or being driven by titles or recognition. Given that we follow the Tao, or at least try to do so, it makes little sense that we compete in boxing or box in general. If we want to follow the Tao and believe in the teachings of Philosophical Taoism, how then can we be said to follow the Tao and box?
Recently, my brother and I have been somewhat interested in how non-philosophers, specifically business scholars (if you will) and science students approach philosophical problems. Yesterday, we were at boxing practice, and Hui decided to ask about the topic discussed in our 400-level philosophy class. True: a meeting for pugilists is not the most likely place to engage in philosophical discourse, but better yesterday than tomorrow.
The question posed: A calculator shows the equation ‘2+2=4’. Can I now say that I know ‘2+2=4’, or in other words, the composition of 4?
I’d like to give you three accounts of the solution to the question. Perhaps, you’ll find it fun to see how others answer the question.
The Biology Major. He said that the composition of 4 cannot be known because there is an uncertainty in the calculator’s purport (presumably based on the idea of that there is always a probability of failure, in this case, in the calculator). And knowing something does not allow for uncertainty.
The Mathematics Major. She said a proof would be the only way of knowing whether 2+2=4 presumably because the calculator derives its purport from the proof and the theoretical (a priori) evaluation cannot be proven wrong.
The Police Officer. He said that he has no problem knowing the composition of 4 from the calculator because whatever makes ‘2+2=4’ known, whether it be a proof or experimentation, also makes the calculator’s purport known.
In retrospect, I believe all these responses characterize their major and occupation. This is not to say that the criteria for knowledge is relative or also that these accounts are incompatible. Both Hui and I are just surprised and humored at how others approach the question. As for our pick, surprisingly enough, we like the police officer’s austerity in reasoning and preservation of truth.
Boxing has become central to Yang and me. We spent the majority of our summer preparing for this year’s boxing events by improving our conditioning, diet, etc. When you spend so much time in boxing, you start realizing a certain Taoist mentality in boxing. A good example of what I mean is right in the moment of sparring, when I am punching and moving, slipping and pivoting… I’ll call it “Emptiness of the mind,” not merely muscle memory, because if muscle memory is unconscious movement due to my conditioning, then emptiness of the mind is the experience of such due to the spirit of the sport.
Towards the end of our summer, Yang and I sparred more often, culminating in an exhibition-type round for our last sparring session just before the start of this school year. Needless to say, the round was exhausting, but more importantly, there were no “mental” breaks, no thinking “I’ll throw a straight to bait” or “I’ll try blocking the jab.” There was really a sense of going with the flow (or way), but not in the conventional way which connotes a lack of willingness to go in one’s own direction, rather in the sense that Zhaungzi illustrates with his story about Cook Ding: the guidedness found in the way of things.
It’s been more or less 3 months since my brother and I have posted a blog post. The decision to post on Taopracticed during the school year was made on almost on a whim but it makes sense given that goals change year-to-year and time off can benefit everyone. As for the blog’s plans this year, we aim to focus on Confucius and his philosophy, and attempt to see the relevance of Confucianism in Taoism.
Yang mentioned that Yang and I dismiss the notion that people do not change for philosophies, but the extent to which people genuinely change can be…questionable. As I was typing that last sentence, a litany of examples came to my mind.
Take for instance the many motivational videos on, say, Youtube. One video might (and one does) convey that social media and cell phones are decreasing quality time in real life, with its message receiving applaud from the nameless on the internet. My guess is that it doubtlessly succeeded in spreading awareness, but for it to change people’s views such that action is taken is dubious at best, a rare sight to be seen, if my intuition serves me correctly. This is because, as David Hume wrote, “reason is and ought only to be a slave to the passions”—a notion which I’ve seen reinforced often.
Whether David Hume is right in his “ought” judgement, it is hard to deny that an undesirable, yet not without virtue, philosophy (of the continental sort) would have any genuine impact on a susceptible person if that person’s senses are prior to her reason. I figure a genuine impact might be the case only if the stars are aligned.
Hui and I at first dismissed the notion that people do not change for philosophies (of the continental sort). Some who would discover meaningful ideas (for instance Stoicism) and attempt to adhere to them generally end up feeling unenthusiastic or forgetting the extremities of the ideas. By “some,” I know at least one.
I read an instance of a person changing for her philosophy. I read that the author was getting annoyed by her husband for the usual jokes, but she realized her petulance and changed her entire attitude. I was either incredulous or respectful to the post, but I do commend the author, if it actually happened.
But for those who find it hard to stick to a philosophy, I’ll use mine to rationalize the difficulty, the main suspect being that the philosophy is too different from the nature of people. For example, how could a hipster stop suppressing emotion for following Stoicism? However, I don’t know if anyone would be capable of straying from Zhuangzi’s philosophy.