Research reported in Science News, That familiar feeling comes from deep in the brain, sheds light on a cognitive problem for anyone who wants to remember their life priorities. This quote sums it up, “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”. (Google: Bidirectional Modulation of Recognition Memory)
Obviously, it is very useful to remember that which is most important … to keep it fresh in mind. Nevertheless, initially important information 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 information as new novelties attract our attention. The trick in life is to keep old, yet crucial information 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 bravely face this fact, the ‘done’ side never gets off the ground.
Frankly, keeping old news in working memory is not instinctive, nor was it necessary to do 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 in healthy directions. Instead, it often distracts us from the realms that facilitate 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. It was also the way shared by all other animals. Briefly, it goes like this: the gatherer animals were 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) (Google Lorna Marshall) and others in the last century where a once in human history opportunity to scientifically examine how our ancestors lived up until the Agricultural Revolution. Up until then, observations made earlier by others without impartial rigor, saw primitive people through their own cultural and religious filters. Granted, science succumbs to bias too, and so perhaps there’s some positive bias on the part of the Marshall family. Nevertheless, they maintained sufficient impartiality… at least enough to allow me to grasp the human condition in a truly ‘big picture’ context. Now I can put my concerns for humanity to rest and take another step closer to the lower position.
Profound Redundancy Accomplishes
Profound sameness (2) and the constant way are different words for the same thing. I’d say you could call this ‘profound redundancy’. 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 contrived cognitive tools for splitting reality’s whole into manageable bits and pieces. The utilitarian benefit names give us comes with at steep price. Accordingly, the more flexible your connection to names, the easier it becomes to see the true connections between matters that appear to be apparently different on their ‘named’ surface.
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 — chapter 3
Feeling something exciting and rare usually grabs our total attention. Conversely, feeling something boring and redundant usually means that we are taking it for granted and so our attention soon drifts away in search of novelty. A pursuit of the new, 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 — chapter 16
Returning to the root cause entails pushing away from the table of novelty somewhat and consolidating the sense of where we’ve been. Innate ignorance and insecurity (fear) drives us to reach for everything ‘out there’, sample it and move on. Later on in life, as ‘out there’ gradually becomes ‘in here’, impartiality finds more of a foothold in our awareness.
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. — chapter 47
Refrains from acting, yet accomplishes occurs naturally as we begin embracing what is ‘naturally so’ rather than futilely forcing the ‘naturally so’ to comply with our expectations. Note: In regards to ‘naturally so’, consider the Chinese word for nature: zì rán (自然). Zì (自) = self; certainly. Rán (然) = correct; so. Accordingly, Nature = self-correct, self-so, certainly-so.
Without looking out the window, we can see nature’s way because nature’s way is profoundly redundant. Without going out the door, we can know all under heaven by simply knowing just one aspect of nature deeply enough. Profound sameness is the key… akin to that old saying, “All roads lead to Rome”. Certainly, this makes less sense until you experience it, and only in experience rests the proof. (See We only understand what we already know) Still, if you accept this in principle, you might be more inclined to open the door when similarity comes a-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. — chapter 52
Squeeze exchange, shut the gates counsels us to be wary of distractions that cause us to forget the essential. What is essential? Certainly, Open the exchange, help its affairs won’t answer that. Accordingly, Returning to the root cause is called stillness; this means answering to one’s destiny. Answering to one’s destiny is called the constant; as chapter 16 put it. Nevertheless, ‘going’ is essential to ‘returning’. Ironically, in returning we discover what we were trying to see as we careened 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; or more literally, In desiring to get, one must first give.
Speaking of Redundant Posts…
I am compiling my Centertao blog observations into a book, Taoist Thought, Returning to Original Self . In reviewing and editing them 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 the old yet essential news.
My recent Who are You series on the hunter-gatherers has finally answered some basic questions I have had about how and why humanity is currently the way it is. 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.
(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.