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March 27, 2012


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you might like this:

recently written, but in the style as if it was a recently discovered ancient tome.

i found the section 1 stories to be quite entertaining but also thought-provoking.


yeah but in all of that, and your latest article, you still have not managed to say what taoism is, other than to say it is a sort of feeling that resonates with you as being true, which is why ppl argue it is metaphysical.

Afterall the tao that is the tao cannot be defined.

George, Taoism/Daoism isn't metaphysical. It's a philosophy. That much is clear from reading Hansen's book.

The Chinese way of looking at the world is decidedly natural, not supernatural. Yes, there are religious variants of Daoism, but these aren't the real philosophical deal, according to Hansen.

One thing I've learned from his book is how our usual Western ways of looking upon reality can lead us astray when considering Chinese philosophy.

For example, you mention Daoism as being "true." Truth, in Chinese philosophy, isn't at all like Platonic truth, or scientific truth. I'm not even sure there is a comparable Chinese term for our "truth."

A dao is a way, a course of action. Traditionally, Daoists aren't much, or at all, concerned with finding a transcendent truth, or even a Theory of Everything for this physical universe. Rather, they are very practical, seeking to learn what works for way-making in life.

In Chuang Tzu/Zhuangzi, he speaks of a butcher perfecting his art. Anyone, doing anything, can pursue the proper "dao" of the doing. Athletes, of course, experience this when they're "in the flow." I feel it once in a while when ballroom dancing, when I allow the music and what I've learned to intuitively and non-thinkingly guide my steps, rather than thinking "time for an underarm turn" and such.

As to the tao/dao not being defined, that's the Daodejing view. Hansen explains that Zhuangzi looks on things differently. He's much more into considering the role of language plays in the way we look upon the world, asking how we know what we know is true, and if we believe we've found a truth-criterion, how we know THAT is true.

Metaphysics is a central to philosophy, hence Aristotle's work.

Personally I think there may be something to Taoism, but I am not convinced for the simple reason that there is not one iota of evidence for the Tao. In fact, it cannot even be described, so how can it be evidenced? This is why some group it with new-age spiritual woo-woo or mumbo jumbo.

Moreover, 'feeling' you are in the flow does not necessarily means that you 'are' in the flow, or even that a 'flow' exists. It is only your subjective perception of reality, which is unsubstantiated and indescribable - come to think of it, sounds not to far from the mystical experiences you are skeptical of?

George, you're still assuming that Daoism considers "Dao" to be something separate from nature, in the sense that Platonism, Kant, and other idealists consider "Truth" to be something transcendent.

My understanding of Daoism is that this isn't, well, true. Likewise, "flow" isn't something separate from the feeling of flow. Daoism, and Chinese philosophy in general, are about acting or way-making in the world, not discovering some abstract "truth," such as Love, Reality, or such.


Think it might be you assuming that dào is part of nature despite there being no evidence for such a proposition.

I don't know if the dào is part of, or seperate from, nature. I am questioning the evidence that the dào exists at all.

You need to put more meat on your definition, rather than saying what the dào is not, otherwise it suffers from the same lack of evidence of any other metaphysical claim to the nature of reality.

This not necessarily directed at George who seeks objective proof of Tao or God or Watchamacallit. He will never ever see objective proof of such. And no one ever has or ever will. God has never seen God.

This is my opinion. I am not posing as an authority although the tone of this may indicate that and be irksome to some.

This is just my view as best I can communicate the uncommunicable in words.

Since what I am trying to communicate is uncommunicable, this writing will ultimately prove unsatisfying and just raise more questions. I write anyway even though it won't resolve anything.

OK. All appearance is produced by our psychosomatic apparatus (brain) and is dependent on this brain for apparent dimension and extension (space-time). This brain is a mechanism. Conscious entities in appearance are the product of this mechanism, but their consciousness (sentience) is not produced by this mechanism. Rather, consciousness produces the mechanism. Here, many will say I'm full of excrement. Not the first time.

What we really are as non-objective, undifferentiated, sentient consciousness is what produces the brain which produces phenomena.

So, What-We-Really-Are creates the phenomenal univese including the phenomenal aspect of what each of us is as appearance.
But, there is no conceivable entity anywhere in the whole set-up. So..

When George (subject) looks, George sees an object. When George sees himself looking at an object George becomes object and is no longer subject.

When George looks at himself, he no longer sees anything because there can't be anything to see since George, not being an object as subject, cannot be seen.

That is the "mirror-void" of Buddhism, God if you like or Tao, which is the absence of anything seen, of anything seeable, which George really is.

At this point George may try to conceive a "void" or "mirror", but it really is not void or mirror or any thing at all. It is not even it.

This is the transcendence of subject and object which is what is-- total absence which is the presence of all that seems to be.

George, non-religious Daoism doesn't consider "dao" to be metaphysical, any more than the English word "way" is metaphysical. Dao simply means "way" in Chinese.

So there are daos of tea-making, writing blog comments, making coffee, swing dancing, and everything else in life. How these daos are best pursued is the main interest of Daoism.

There's nothing metaphysical involved, unless you consider that the word "way" is metaphysical. As I noted before, many Western translator of the Daodejing interpret big "D" Dao to be akin to "God," but Chad Hansen doesn't agree with this, and he makes a lot of sense.

you people read so many books .. this is where you get your information from.. other peoples perspective of what connotes truth and whether you relate to the other perspective or not determines what you deem to be true or not...

its all a load of bunkum speculative subjective hear say.. every last iota of all your dumb hypothesis of who or what relates to truth...

why don't you discover some truth for yourself instead of reading other peoples synopsis on what connotes to it... and instead of racking that incapacitated intellect which don't know the beginning of where truth either begins or ends..?

O, I enjoy reading books. You enjoy writing judgmental blog comments. There's nothing wrong with each of us pursuing our own enjoyments.

So you know where truth "begins or ends," and no one else does? Interesting. Apparently your quest for truth hasn't ended with you finding humility.

I think I'll stick with my own truths.


very good message, as usual....


Your views are always interesting, please feel free to disagree as u see fit.

However, at the risk of putting words into your mouth, you believe mind (consciousness) precedes matter, whereas I believe matter precedes mind. You believe matter is only apparent (ie mind-dependent) whereas I believe matter is real (mind-independent). You believe that fundamental (absolute) reality is consciousness, god or Tao; whereas I believe it is the natural laws that have unconsciously produce matter, in turn complex organisms, and in turn consciousness.

I believe our minds are limited and error-prone. That our minds 'see' or 'understand' things subjectively, through a self-condioned lens of personal experiences unique to each person. However, such subjective worldviews can be corrected to an extent by 'objective' evidence of the natural world around us. While I may see a mirage in the dessert or you may think you can walk on water, can be objectively compared with reality to show these subjective perceptions of our minds are false.

But who says there is 'a way', as in The Way, to make blog comments or do swing dancing? There may be different ways and if there are in fact different ways how does one know that is in flow with the way? What is the actual point of daoism under such a frivolous broad definition.

O (ashy),
Are u talking crap again?

George, this morning I was reading Chad Hansen's translation of the Tao Te Ching. Good book, interestingly written and beautifully published in China. He presents a seemingly persuasive interpretation of Taoism that is somewhat different from translators who try to make Western ideas fit with Chinese ideas.

For example, Hansen says that translators always add the "the" before "the Dao." This isn't in the Chinese original. Rather there are many, many daos. Countless.

Here's some excerpts from his description of dao, "guide."

The simple translation is "way."...Dao resists indivduation; any dao consists of daos and is part of some larger dao. A way from one point to another can consist of a web of alternate choices of nodes and links. Each link can count as a way and a collection of links or paths can also count as a way. The worldwide web is a dao.

... Space-time -- the path of light rays -- is shaped by the distribution of force/matter. Daos are not forces or things, but are the result of the placement of things (trees, rocks, swamps). They are opportunities or openings for action by some creature., so daos are relative to potential dao walkers.

The way for a professional skier to get through a difficult run amid the trees is not the way for a forty-year-old beginner. That is why daos are everywhere and endless -- for every dao there are ways of choosing it and ways of interpreting/performing it and way of choosing/interpreting those and so on, ad infinitum.

But we seem to agree (even if we err) that some "ways" are quite delusive - especially when followed by those we disagree with.

"Cause and effect" have brought about many adherents/promoters of many different (and combative) "ways." (As if we had any freely willed choices in these matters.)

Robert Paul Howard

George's response above to my comment above his response makes sense in the conventional way of seeing how things are. Here is a view that defies convention and reason...

I do not believe in the factual existence of anything whatsoever that can be sensorially perceived and conceptually interpreted as an object.

I do not believe in the existence of any objective entity that may be writing these lines, nor the words themselves.

This is because anything that appears to extend in space and time is nothing other than an appearance in mind.

So, one may ask, "Who is responsible for this writing?"

I am. I am responsible for every appearance, and all conscious beings can say the same whether it be bird, hippo or tulip.

Because in the voidness of Intrinsic Basic Nature it is so...and I, whoever says it, am the immanence phenomenally whose transcendence noumenally is all that is.

(Noumenon is a word rarely used and for good reason. What it denotes is impossible to conceive. Noumenon could be said to symbolize the Principle of potential appearance having no conceptual or objective existence, neither presence nor absence of its own.)

An interesting viewpoint Tucson, but there are many interesting views, beliefs and philosophies - often conflicting - I do not mind speculating on what might be, but if we are to talk about what we know of reality, rather than what might be, there is only one criteria that suffices - evidence.

Hi George,

I too do not find the notion of consciousness preceding matter in any way coherent. But I also find that the materialist version of events as it stands, sorely lacking. I'm not alone in this view, the mind-body problem has been raging for over 2000 years and doesn't look as if it is about to be solved any time soon.

That a solution has evaded the best minds for centuries points to the probability that it's not solvable by the cognitive capabilities of humans (at least at this stage of evolution.) Just as the comprehension of Shakespeare is cognitively closed to a rat, there may be problems that are out of the reach of the biology of humans.

What is plainly evident is that something is going on - there is a momentum that is disclosed at all points and at all scales of the cosmos. Again, this momentum is quite mysterious to human cognition - not because there is anything supernatural about it - it's all wholly natural, it's just that its deepest nature is beyond human comprehension. It seems that there is a form of power, order and intelligence* at work. We could just call this nature - or to distinguish its scale from what we ordinarily think of nature, we could call it cosmic nature. This cosmic nature that produces black holes, effortlessly repairs cells and DNA, coverts photons into sugars, creates the orbital energy of the electron and so on... this momentum or nature is what I understand as Tao.

*Our problem is that when we think of intelligence we posit a supernatural designer - this is part of our ignorance due to our cognitive limitations.

Hi Tucson

If you do not believe in the existence of any objective reality, in anything that can be objectively perceived, then if follows that you cannot account for other conscious beings or birds, hippos and tulips.

In other words, your position is that of a solipsist.


If you are in fact saying that other conscious beings (inc. birds etc) do exist but they are made of mind stuff (whatever that is) then your position is no different to ordinary realism - apart from your use of terminology. It still involves a subjective and objective dimension to reality (but now they are labeled mind instead of matter.)

There is no objective evidence of noumenon which has neither objectivity or non-objectivity or the absence of either or both.

As noumenon:

Only I can speak, but what is said by me as an object I can't say

Only I can look, but what isseen by me as an object I do not see.

I do everything but what is done by a 'me' I do not do.

I am neither a being or not a being, the source of all doing but not the performer of any act. I am the source of all thoughts but not the thinker of any.

I am, but there is no I but I-- but there is no me at all, no you, no bird, no hippo, no tulip, no us or them.

And every living thing is no thing because all a thing is--is I and I am not.

What is said here can be said by any entity because every entity is I.

There is nothing else whatsoever to be said and this already is too much.

Ipse dixit.

Robert Paul Howard

Jon, nicely said. That's almost exactly how I view nature and the cosmos.

(Well, probably shouldn't have said "almost exactly," because I don't have access to your consciousness, only mine. But your words reflect how I look upon reality.)

Jon, I liked,

"What is plainly evident is that something is going on - there is a momentum that is disclosed at all points and at all scales of the cosmos. Again, this momentum is quite mysterious to human cognition - not because there is anything supernatural about it - it's all wholly natural, it's just that its deepest nature is beyond human comprehension. It seems that there is a form of power, order and intelligence* at work. We could just call this nature - or to distinguish its scale from what we ordinarily think of nature, we could call it cosmic nature. This cosmic nature that produces black holes, effortlessly repairs cells and DNA, coverts photons into sugars, creates the orbital energy of the electron and so on... this momentum or nature is what I understand as Tao."

---Tucson, is saying the same thing, just in a different way.

If I am aware of what I am, then what I am is the object of a subject that is aware of an object,and it is then an object of which a subject is aware, and so on, ad infinitum in a perpetual regression.

This also applies to a term such as 'consciousness'. It is impossible to be aware of what is being aware, or to be conscious of what is being conscious.

Therefore, as far as dialectic thought is concerned, there can't be any objective thing that is conscious or aware. Being conscious or aware is only a concept. It can be referred to symbolically with the term 'noumenon' that I mentioned above, but it does not phenomenally exist.

This is why dualistically I am not and why I can't possibly be.

This implies that we can't not-exist either for the same reason. Absence of positive existence implies also absence of its conterpart, negative existence which is a kind of non-existence consisting of total absence of both positive and negative concepts.

I'm getting a headache.

What we are, then, is total absence of the presence of both positive and negative awareness, which is total absence of the presence of both positive and negative existence, which is total absence of positive and negative presence, which is absence of absence as well as of presence.


Dialectically this establishes the fact that we can't be anything that we could ever imagine ourselves to be, singular or plural, because what we are can't be anything that could be objectively visualised by the split mind of dialectic reasoning.

So, what is this Great and Obscure Mystery that we neither are nor are not conceptually? No mystery at all! It is what divided mind can't know because it is divided into subject and object. Divided this way it can reason, but it can't intuit its own indivision, its own wholeness, which is all that it is and all that we can be.

Hello Jon,

I agree consciousness is largely unexplained, but we can also apply some common sense (or experience).

This experience suggest that only matter can give rise to consciousness. We have no evidence that momentum (or energy or forces or laws) have consciousness. In our common experience, only a particular form of matter gives rise to consciousness, i.e. matter that has evolved into a living brain. Our common experience is that rocks are not conscious and neither are living organims after they die. Our common experience is that those basic organisms like plants are less consiousness than those with more complex nervous systems, and there is none more complex than the human brain. These all seem very direct correlations, there are no exceptions with any evidence.

Although we are undoubtedly limited, just look at the exponential explosion in knowledge we've made over the 150 years, an eye-blink, and yet in that time we have explanations as to how matter/universe and all its different forms, just be using the discovered natural laws of nature. With gravity, atomic theory, thermodynams, gravity and evolution - there is an explanation for how all the various universal forms came to be including galaxies, blacks holes, cells and brains - these natural laws require no creator, designer, consioness or underlying intelligence and they are supported by evidence.

You say there is a momentum. I presume you mean a kind of flow, or something dynamic and ever-changing. I think the closest one could come to putting this in scientific terms is the concept of entropy.

One can envisage life as a 'process', but I am not sure that just because things are changing, tao adds anything further, the laws of the universe explain this to the best of our knowledge, tao adds nothing further. Tao is vague, unsupported and ill-defined, hence metaphysical.

That said I like you do think subjectively there may be something to it, but its a feeling or an intuition, for it represent reality, it must add something or enlighten. It does not enlighten imo, or certainly not the definition advanced anywhere i have read, but if the mystics are right anything that can be defined or read is inherely limited so its all barking up the wrong tree, which is what tucson and ashy are getting at in their own ways.

I just ask for the evidence to distinguish their particular metaphysical claim from anyone else's.

Hi George. I completely agree that the evolution of a brain and nervous system is absolutely necessary for consciousness *as we know it* to arise.

Whether there is a basic form of proto-consciousness or proto-presence in subatomic activity (and therefore all matter/energy) is debatable - although credible minds such as David Chalmers and Galen Strawson do not completely rule this out.

Of course Tao - or Nature or the Cosmos for that matter - is vague or ill-defined. That was the point of my comment. I believe that we don't - and possibly CAN'T - have a total grasp on these things. When we (sensibly) reject religion we naturally look to science for our answers. And science successfully provides us with a map of the known. It's as if we are looking through a keyhole and science more or less explains (or describes) what's on view. But it's more than reasonable to deduce that the view through the keyhole is not the full extent of reality itself.

The keyhole view represents the frequencies of reality available to the evolved biology of the human organism. There is no evolutionary necessity to have a view that goes beyond these frequencies. Science does a fine job at accounting for what is available. But it might become clear that it would be a wholly anthropocentric conceit to assume that this represents the full (and to some degree, accurate) picture.

If the spiritual traditions have any value, it's that they intuit this vaster potential. It's just that their science is dismal - primitive, magical and thoroughly anthropomorphic.

Yes, I agree with much of that - but my point remains, which is that while there may be truth to spritual traditions, we do not know which ones, if any, are actually true, precisely because they are ALL based on metaphysical claims that are vague, undefined and unsupported.

I would also point out that if science shows us anything its that what we intuit to be true is often not true at all. It is often only after overwhelming objective evidence that we often have to reject our intuitions and accept counter-intuitive concepts of reality for which we have no experience, sense or anthropormphic conditioning.

As it stands, the universe can be viewed naturally or supernaturally. Science favors the former and religion is quite partial to the latter.

There is a third possibility. Due to evolutionary limitations, the natural world (the natural cosmos) is only partially (fractionally) comprehended and understood.

And this might always be the case since evolution may have no 'reason' to advance our comprehension to frequencies that have no fitness value. Or it may simply be the case that Homo sapiens or the planet will be wiped out before our biology is equipped to understand certain things.

This undisclosed naturalism is not the supernatural - although it may be lazily taken to be so.

You use the word metaphysical often. Metaphysical can mean speculative/theoretical or it could mean supernatural. I'm arguing that there is nothing supernatural about the undisclosed cosmos - its hidden nature is due to OUR limitations. Of course by its very nature, there has to be a theoretical element to an undisclosed cosmos.

And hey, the edges of the disclosed cosmos are INCREASINGLY dependent on theory and speculation. No one has evidence of dark matter for instance - dark matter 'exists' only by virtue of mathematics.

Science might show us that angels don't exist, that mediums are fakes, that gurus and sages are embellishing simple, natural truths. But it can't fully account for the undisclosed cosmos for the reasons argued above.

Jon, as I've noted before, and likely will note again, your comments often say what I think better than I can say what I think myself. If you have your own blog, or ever start one, where you write about this sort of stuff, I'd be an avid reader.

Yes, mystery doesn't mean supernatural. It just points to what lies beyond the known. Like you said, there's little reason to believe that the human brain, which evolved for "reasons" (evolution really doesn't have reasons) far different than Understanding the Cosmos, is capable of comprehending the essence of ultimate reality -- assuming such is comprehensible by any conscious being.


I respect your views but I think your 'middle way' is a bit of a cop-out to be honest. It sounds reasonable but adds nothing to our knowledge of nature.

I also think your characterisation of science is a bit off. For one thing, science cannot, not does it try, prove a negative - ie that god, angels or gurus don't exist. For another, the whole point of science is to recognise its, and our intellectual limits, at our understanding of the natural mysteries of the cosmos. But no-one knows what these limits are, nor should we try impose limits. Nature is complex. Hence science continues to probe to try understand this complexity and unravel these mysteries.

Undisclosed naturalism, as you put it, is simply the unknown. I have no problem with mystery, this is all it is, nothing else can be said on the issue, by anyone. Science may be limited at this point in time, but so is every other method of insight into reality, hence it is a mystery.

All spiritual traditions opt to inhabit this unknown area of mystery, and for very good reason, no-one can prove their claims are right or wrong, they are purely metaphysical. Dont get me wrong, you and Brian are welcome to believe, or intuit whatever you like, but until you can provide some evidence for taoist claims on the nature of reality, they remain in the same realm as mysticism and religion, not some middle way.

That said, there is a slight difference between mysticism and religion, which is that mysticism does insist on evidence, but of a very particular kind 'subjective evidence', which is very different from the objective evidence of science.

In short, my meaning of metaphysics is a vague unclear claim to knowledge of the unknown without objective evidence in support of it.

Hi George.

I wouldn't call it a middle way, I'd say that it's a more encompassing outlook. It accords totally with science - without compromise. And yet it takes into account the 'impulse' at the core of spirituality.

I'm not sure that my characterisation of science is a 'bit off'. The reason I mentioned those particular things was to highlight a difference between the supernatural and what I referred to as the undisclosed. And of course you are right, we shouldn't try to impose limits on science, but we might recognize that science is ultimately limited by biology.


Imagine a monkey. It's wearing blinkers. And tinted sunglasses that only let in certain frequencies. It has a hearing aid that picks up a limited band of frequencies. The monkey is wearing thick gloves that limit its tactile perception. The capacities of its brain have been determined by genes and adaption to its specific environment... and so on.

It thinks that it more or less has a grasp or overview of reality.

1. What it actually has a grasp on, is the perception of reality that is AVAILABLE to it.

2. The monkey's comprehension of reality (and all else) is determined therefore by principles or 'forces' that must ultimately lie outside of its grasp.

They are mysterious not because they are supernatural/metaphysical, but because of the limitations of the monkey's predicament.

And so our knowledge of the undisclosed is simply that it IS. Knowledge ABOUT the unknown would be an oxymoron - and you are quite right to demand evidence for this sort of (insider knowledge) claim.


I have no problem acknowledging that a mystical, or even a religious view, might be more 'encompassing' than science. If any of these views is true, it almost certainly would be more encompassing, as you say.

However, the claim put forward by Brian in this here article is that Taoism is natural as opposed to mystical. My argument is that taoism is mystical in that both are metaphysical claims concerned with a subjective intuitive mode of experiencing lacking in objective evidence.

Simply put, how can one differentiate one metaphysical claim from another if there is no objective evidence in support of either?

Your naked ape, or anthropormic, theory of human conditioning is true to a certain extent, but of all the modes of insights we are capable of the one it is the relative objectivity of science that is in fact best placed to overcome this particular line of argument as to our evolutionary limitations.

It is only through objective evidence, science, where we are forced to re-evalauate what we 'intuit' to be true. In other words, science appears to be the one tool of all that gives the possibility of overcoming the biological limitations you advance and certainly more so than other modes of insight that are reliant on subjective understanding and claims of knowledge of rhe unknown.

George, you seem to be equating "subjectivity" with "mysticism." But all experience is subjective. There's no objective evidence of any phenomenal subjective experience. This is a basic premise of neuroscience, and is the reason why consciousness is called the Hard Problem.

Correlates of subjective experience can be identified via brain scanners and the like. But everyone except extremely hard-core "Skinnerian" behaviorists (not sure if any exist these days) acknowledges that we humans, and almost certainly many other animal species, experience subjective consciousness, a "what it is like" to be a person, dog, monkey, horse, or whatever.

Daoism is a naturalistic worldview. It is a philosophy, just like other philosophies of both east and west, including philosophies of science. Science doesn't deal in objectivity, because all scientists do their science through their subjective consciousness.

There is nothing truly objective about how humans experience the world. However, it is possible to reach agreement about how different people subjectively see the world, which we call "objective facts."


Science is concerned with empiricism, ie objective evidence. it is concerned with realism, the fact that the universe exists independently of whether we perceieve/experience it or not.

A rock exists whether you care or believe to subjectively experience it or not, you will walk into that rock. Someone claims a rock exists because it can be detected objectively.

A Mystic might claim god exists since he has subjectively experienced god, or u might claim the Tao exists since you have subjectively experienced this, or a mental case may claim he is zoltar from the planet Uranus - all of these claims may be true or they may be false - there is simply no way of ascertaining their validity since they have absolutely no objective evidence in support of them.

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