One of the more challenging notions in the Tao Te Ching is, to quote: “He who knows does not speak, he who speaks does not know“. Perception is a key issue in Taoism. Let’s chew on this a little…
1) We acquire a collection of words as we grow from infancy to adulthood. These words rapidly become preconceptions because they are rarely reviewed. Once a word becomes part of our vocabulary of thought, we never look back to question that with which we are thinking, i.e., the words. Words are the precursor bricks with which we build our thoughts. We’re never return to examine these bricks. These preconceptions act as lenses through which we see life.
2) Such preconceptions are efficient generalizations of innate spontaneous perception. For instance, we ‘lump’ together trees as your senses perceive them spontaneously and transform the unique ‘tree’ experience into a cognitive generalization and then into a word “tree”. Words allow us to organize information and create mental scenarios—all of which aid survival. One drawback to such ‘lumping’ is a degree of obliviousness to the original experience. We are too preoccupied with ‘wordy’ thinking about life issues to feel the ‘silent empty yet pregnant moment’ of life, as it were.
3) As we live out our lives, our emotions drive our thoughts—our collection of preconceptions—which, in turn, easily reenforces the initial emotional perception. This feedback loop between emotion and thought prolongs emotional experience and biases subsequent emotion—triggering sensory input.
4) This reenforcing feedback loop between preconceptions and emotions does not enhance the verity of our perceptions—just the opposite. We have no way to disconnect our preconceptions from our base emotions and senses. This precludes us from ever having an accurate and balanced conceptual interpretation of our sensory experience.
…and so we have, to paraphrase the Tao Te Ching, “he who thinks does not know, he who knows does not think“. That, I think, is one of the main thrusts of Taoism,. . . to downgrade our trust in thought itself. Now, does making this observation seem paradoxical? “Straightforward words, Seem paradoxical“. The mind of the beholder determines how things seem.