This research, That familiar feeling comes from deep in the brain, sheds light on a cognitive problem for anyone who wants to remember their life priorities. “The research suggests that novelty and familiarity are two sides of the same brain cells. Turn them down, and even the new is boring and old. Turn them up and the old is new again”.
When something is very important in life, it is obviously essential to remember… to keep fresh in mind. Even so, initially important news soon fades into the familiar and becomes old news. Old news is not interesting and easily forgotten, at least in working memory. Do you see the problem? This is my rationale for being as redundant as I am in my Centertao posts.
Now for my redundant bit…
We soon ignore even the most important ‘news’ as we scurry off to some more stimulating novelty. It seems to me that the trick in life is to keep old, yet crucial ‘news’ interesting enough to retain in working memory. Otherwise, the novelties of the moment will lead awareness off on another wild goose chase. Naturally, this is a whole lot easier said than done. Yet if we don’t face this, “done” is quite out of the question!
Frankly, keeping old news in working memory is not instinctive, nor was it necessary in our ancestral hunter-gatherer days. Indeed, seeking out novelties was essential for survival; hunting and gathering new sources of food. The problem now lies in how this biology is less likely to guide us to something healthy. Instead, it often distracts us from what maintains stability and sanity.
Redundancy Supports the Lower Position
Most of our seemingly intractable problems of today trace back to the loss of simplicity necessitated by a hunter-gatherer lifestyle. Although, I don’t suppose it is fair to call it a ‘lifestyle’. Lifestyles are civilization’s thing. The hunter-gatherer old way was our innate ancestral way of life, and a natural way shared by all other animals. The gatherer animals were usually the prey; their predators were the hunter animals; the omnivorous animals, like us, served both roles depending on circumstances.
Admittedly, I’ve been beating around this bush a long while. It is only after my detailed study of hunter-gatherer ways, often reading between the lines of the related ethnographic research, that I understand more fully. The observations made by the Marshall family(1) (see Lorna Marshall) and others in the last century where a ‘once in human history‘ opportunity to scientifically observe and study how our ancestors lived, up until the Agricultural Revolution. In contrast are the tainted observations made earlier by missionaries and others who, in the absence of scientific rigor, saw primitive people through their own cultural and religious filters. Sufficient impartial scientific rigor has made all the difference… at least to enlighten me enough to put the whole thing to rest and help me take another step closer to the lower position.
Profound Redundancy Accomplishes
Profound sameness (2) and the constant way are different angles of the same thing. I’d call it ‘profound redundancy’. Rather than beat too much around the bush here, I’ll highlight a few chapters that help bring home the point.
This reminds me of Shakespeare’s, “A rose by any other name would smell as sweet.” Names are arbitrary cognitive tools for chopping up reality into manageable pieces. The looser ones hold on names the more likely to see the connections — the profound sameness — between what appears on the surface to be very different.
Not to value worthy people, enables people to avoid contending.
Not to value rare goods, enables people to avoid stealing.
Not to catch sight of what suits desire,
… enables people’s heart to avoid confusion.
This is because of how the wise person governs;
Empties their hearts, fills their bellies,
Weakens their aspirations, strengthens their bones,
Always enables the people to be unlearned and without desire,
And enables resourceful men to never dare to act also.
Doing without doing, following without exception rules.
The more valuable and rare something feels, the more likely it grabs your attention, or rather, your attention grabs onto it. Feeling something redundant and boring likely means that you are taking it for granted, with desire pulling you to seek novelty. The pursuit of newer knowledge, like greener pastures, beckons us all.
Devote effort to emptiness, sincerely watch stillness.
Everything ‘out there’ rises up together, and I watch again.
Everything ‘out there’, one and all, return again to their root cause.
Returning to the root cause is called stillness;
… this means answering to one’s destiny.
Answering to one’s destiny is called the constant;
… knowing the constant is called honest.
Not knowing the constant, rash actions lead to ominous results.
Knowing the constant allows, allowing therefore impartial,
Impartial therefore whole, whole therefore natural,
Natural therefore the way.
The way therefore long enduring, nearly rising beyond oneself.
Returning to the root cause can mean pushing away from the table of novelty and consolidating the sense of where you’ve been. From birth, ignorance and insecurity (fear) drive us to test everything ‘out there’, master it and move on. Then, as ‘out there‘ becomes ‘in here‘, impartiality begins to rule.
Without going out the door, we can know all under heaven.
Without looking out the window, we can see nature’s way.
He goes out farther, he realizes less,
Accordingly, the wise person goes nowhere, yet knows.
Sees nothing, yet understands.
Refrains from acting, yet accomplishes.
Refrains from acting, yet accomplishes works by knowing the true nature of things rather than by striving to change things to match your expectation of what their nature should be.
The reason you can see nature’s way without looking is that nature’s way is profoundly redundant. Know just one aspect of nature deep enough and you can know the whole without having to look out the window. Certainly, this won’t make much sense truly, until you feel it, and that just comes when it comes. (See We only understand what we already know .) Still, if you accept this in principle, you might be more apt to open the door when it comes knocking.
All under heaven had a beginning; consider the origin of all under heaven.
Already having this origin, use this to know its offspring.
Already knowing its offspring, return to observe the origin.
Nearly rising beyond oneself.
Squeeze exchange, shut the gates; to the end, oneself diligent.
Open the exchange, help its affairs; to the end, oneself no relief.
Seeing the small is called clarity, abide yielding is called powerful.
Use the light, and again return to clarity, not offer oneself misfortune.
This serves as practicing of the constant.
Squeeze exchange helps avoid distractions that forget the essential. What is essential? Open the exchange, won’t answer that. Only returning does. However, going is essential to returning. Ironically, in looking back we can discover what we’re trying to see as we careen forward through life. As D.C. Lau put it in chapter 36, If you would have a thing laid aside, You must first set it up;
Speaking of Redundant Posts…
I crammed the last seven years of Centertao blog observations into two books, Taoist Thought Volume 1 & 2 (3). In reviewing and editing them rigorously now, I realize how redundant I’ve been, which is not surprising given the observations above. After all, there are only a few principles in life that are truly important. I find it very helpful to trace all the tangential issues in life back down to this common core. Ferreting out this profound sameness is one way of refreshing old important news.
My recent Who are You series on the hunter-gatherers has finally answered some basic questions I had about how and why humanity is the way it is now. I’ve known for quite a while that thinking was the root cause of much of our difficulties. However, that left much unanswered for me. Now, seeing fully what humanity had to give up to make civilization work effectively helps complete the rest of the story.
Stillness at last… well, relatively anyway. This probably means I’ll post less often. On the other hand, I’m always observing, so I always have something to say. We’ll see!
(1) Elizabeth Marshall’s two books are a good place to begin. She wrote the first, The Harmless People, in her early 20’s soon after returning from their time with the Kung. In her 80’s, she wrote her other book, The old way: a story of the first people. Together they encompass her life of involvement with this subject. Her mother, Lorna Marshall’s book, Kung of Nyae Nyae, offers serious ethnographic detail to deepen further your gut sense of humanity’s ancestral way of life.
(2) Catching glimpses of profound sameness evolves over time — your lifetime. Wanting it does not give you the ability to choose it or hurry it. Still, I do feel that being open to its truth-in-principal can only help it evolve. Being on the lookout for it should help, while dwelling on differences should certainly delay it. I suppose you could call this nurturing it along.
(3) As to the new books, Taoist Thought Volume 1 & 2, I don’t know yet when or even if I’ll release them. It all depends if I feel their redundancy will be usefully refreshing or just a waste of paper.