Biology, among other phenomena, makes use of the emergent property principle wherein simple structures, processes, and order form a foundation upon which more complex structures, processes, and order can emerge. This property shares similarity to the root Greek words of archetype: archein = original or old, typos = pattern, model, or type. Frankly, I notice this principle behind everything. I see each layer of existence as an emergent property modeled on something more primal. This reminds me of chapter 56’s, This is known as mysterious sameness.
It can be especially helpful to consider ideas (and ideals) as an emergent property, not only of biology (i.e., the brain, instinct) but also of something deeper as you follow ‘it’ down layer by primordial layer. The idea (and ideal) of balance is especially interesting. Balance is a virtuous ideal, not only in human affairs, but in nature as a whole. As far as I can tell, nature’s core ‘ideal’ is an ‘intention’ to maintain integrity of balance. It is the way of nature.
It can be helpful to consider ideas and ideals as emergent properties, not only of biology (i.e., the brain, instinct) but also of deeper phenomena as you search downward layer by primordial layer. The idea (and ideal) of balance is especially interesting. Balance is a virtuous ideal, not only in human affairs, but in nature as a whole. As far as I can tell, Nature’s core ‘ideal’ is an ‘intention’ to maintain integrity of balance. It is the way of nature.
Everywhere I look, I feel Nature’s heartbeat as it ebbs then flows, waxes then wanes, around the ideal of balance. Each individual thing, be it an atom, a mountain, a cloud, a mouse or a person, strives to maintain, what is for each, the ideal balance or counterbalance at the moment. That is so important I’ll repeat it: Each thing in existence does what it does to balance or counterbalance where it is at each moment.
Nature does not speak about this ideal, or any other for that matter. I know this is obvious, but it’s useful to point out. The words ‘ideal’ and ‘balance’ are themselves emergent properties symbolizing a silent primordial reality which we observe and label. In other words, nature’s unspoken ideal of balance unavoidably spawns in thinking animals the words, “ideal” and “balance”.
Note: Correlations helps get to the bottom-most seeds of this emergent-layered reality. The pyramidal graphic here is my clumsy attempt to illustrate this layering idea. As the words are hard to read, I’ll insert them at the end (1).
Noteworthy also is the fact that nature’s ideal is neither ‘moral’ nor ‘immoral’. The ideal is balance, and from that emerges ideals of ‘morality’, unspoken but common in most social animals. Morality, in its simplest unspoken form, is based on behaviors that facilitate balanced group interaction and survival. Therefore, from an emergent property’s point of view, balance is the base from which emerges morality in social animals. Only in humans does this simple morality emerge as culturally learned ideals. (See Belief: Are We Just Fooling Ourselves? and Ethics: Do They Work Anymore?
For example, the ideal of democracy is a governing ideal which suits this particular time and set of conditions. In other words, democracy is an emergent property of this era’s circumstances, just as autocracy or slavery was at one time. History shows how human culture, and the beliefs and ideals that validate it, fluidly adapts to changing circumstances — most especially those of economic necessity. Yet, the deepest rooted and most enduring are the religious ideals each culture adopts to give its population a spiritual path around which to unite to maintain sufficient hope, balance, and harmony.
Some, if not all, religious ideals appear inefficient and irrational to any non-believer, at least on the surface. They are ‘high maintenance’ and can consume much emotional energy. However, these drawbacks disappear when seen as simply symptomatic of an existing deeper ‘high maintenance’ imbalance. This imbalance naturally spawns an outer array of counterbalancing religious ideals. Of course, this begs the question, what accounts for the imbalance in the first place?
Balance rocks the emergent cradle
Civilization’s primary objective is to optimize human comfort and security. Tool use, from the stone axe onward, has done this by giving us an edge over life in the wild. If you doubt this, consider for a moment life without electricity, then life without iron, and finally life without stone tools. Without tools, we would live a simple hard life in the wild.
As with all animals, we instinctively seek comfort and security. In the wild, natural circumstances ‘push back’ on this drive, leaving an animal more or less balanced. Our successful quest to maximize comfort and security through tools use allows us to avoid much of this natural ‘push back’.
The unintended consequence of bypassing Mother Nature’s ‘push back’ is that it leaves us in a state of perpetual imbalance. This drives us to compensate in innumerable ways — music, diet, exercise, politics, drugs, sports, warfare, posting on blogs, and religion of course, come to mind.
Yet, thought, and the naming that thought embodies, is the primary tool that has enabled all the other tools. The power and success of thought must boost the overall cognitive certainty we feel, and from an arrogance of certainty arise our difficulty. As chapter 71 warns, Not to know yet to think that one knows will lead to difficulty.
What is it that we don’t know, yet think we know? Chapter 32 gives us a strong hint beginning with, The way is for ever nameless and ending with, As soon as there are names one ought to know that it is time to stop. Knowing when to stop one can be free from danger. Sure, thinking enables us to figure things out, invent tools, and survive beyond our ancestors’ wildest dreams. The ‘danger’ lies in the collateral damage we suffer by not ‘knowing when to stop’. We carve up Nature’s whole in an ever-increasing array of bits and pieces — knowledge and information. This is not the kind of knowledge to which chapter 16 refers,
Knowledge of the constant is known as discernment.
Woe to him who wilfully innovates, While ignorant of the constant,
But should one act from knowledge of the constant
One’s action will lead to impartiality,
Our ignorance makes us feel more disconnected, and that sense of disconnection drives us to innovate even more. It’s a vicious circle where greater innovations create and even deeper sense of disconnection and primal insecurity (2).
Returning to Balance
A Tao point of view offers us a path unbridled by naming and innovation, and back toward the roots of cognitive balance. As chapter 16 begins,
I do my utmost to attain emptiness; I hold firmly to stillness.
The myriad creatures all rise together, and I watch their return.
The teaming creatures, all return to their separate roots.
Returning to one’s roots is known as stillness.
This is what is meant by returning to one’s destiny.
Returning to one’s destiny is known as the constant.
I see balance as being the ‘bottom layer’, the founding principle, the model, the least common denominator, the ebb and flow cycle, and the primary pattern of emergent existence. Whew! That’s a mouthful. No matter how I look at life, I always come back to balance as a key principle driving the whole shebang. For me, the Tao point of view offers the easiest way to sense that.
(1) The words used in the layer illustration above. The layers can be read in a clockwise manner. View these as layers built one upon the other. Begin at the bottom, ‘energy –>appears… TIME –> VANISHES’, and work upward to the topmost, ‘ego–> rejects… ID –> ACCEPTS’. Needless to say, this must be done with your subtlest ‘taoist’ eye on the lookout for mysterious sameness and mystery.
(2) Primal insecurity is another word for fear. Not your ordinary fear, mind you, but rather a deep-rooted sense of the void, loss, death, and entropy. See, One who speaks does not know?