Our perception of difference begins at the cellular level: neurons flip flop between on (+) and off (—). The billions of neural connections in our complex nervous system make for countless ‘not quite on’, yet ‘not quite off’ indeterminacy. This feels somewhat like chapter 14’s, The image that is without substance. This is called indistinct and shadowy. Even so, awareness preferentially notices difference over indeterminacy. Taoist thought aims to neutralize this bias by turning the tables on this preference for difference awareness … A task easier said than done.
Perceiving indeterminacy and its companion impartiality is challenging because emotions inherently choose sides: attraction vs. aversion, good vs. bad, happy vs. sad, pleasure vs. pain, gain vs. loss. Chapter 1 observes, These two are the same, but diverge in name as they issue forth. Naming things institutionalizes and enshrines this divergence and since we begin naming things from infancy, the damage is largely done.
Naming things conveys the security of knowing, which takes the edge off the unknown. Heck, at least I feel I know something! I’ve often thought of this as a false sense of knowing — an illusion. Yet, I’ll admit that’s going too far the other way. So, to put it more impartially: Names and words deliver neither true nor false knowing. The extent of true vs. false actually lies in the emotional certainty of the believer, whether that be the speaker or listener.
The more important a belief feels, the more misleading it becomes. Here, survival emotions of need and fear empower the sense of importance. Chapter 64’s view, desiring not to desire, appears to offer a way to mitigate this. Most religions tout this tamping down of desire to counteract problematic emotion. This doesn’t work! Simply put, need + thought = desire (see Fear & Need Born in Nothing p.486). Besides, it also brings us no closer to the Taoist perception of indeterminacy and attendant impartiality.
Continually realizing that I don’t know is the secret. As chapter 71’s Chinese characters literally put it, Realize not know better, not know [this] realization disease — (知不知上，不知知病). The disease returns the moment I forget that I don’t know! As realizing I don’t know becomes visceral, chapter 10 comes within reach. As the Chinese characters literally put it, Understand four reach, able without knowledge? — (明白四达，能无知乎). Only then, can awareness notice indeterminacy!
Leave a Reply