Wisdom Of The East

There's something puzzling about this WisdomOfTheEast (or, it may be the West, or indeed Right Here, from where you're sitting) thread in Wiki.

Now, "western" society is certainly too materialistic, but it's not as if they don't know what a shop is in Tokyo. Western society is too interested in conflict and opposition, but it's not as if China's history is one of undiluted peace and harmony.

I would mention the Indian sub-continent, but the philosophies of Islam or the Hindu faiths don't seem to be of much interest here (why is that?).

And, further, it's not as if materialistic, conflict-ridden Europe doesn't have philosophical and mystical traditions that tell you roughly the same things, as any honest Jesuit will admit.

So, could someone please explain what some of the attraction of the WisdomOfTheEast is?

Easy. It's spiritualism with a lack of an authoritative figure. It allows one to fulfill the desire of purpose and greater understanding, without having to submit to a deity.

In my mind the peak interest is due to the rebellion movement in the 60s and 70s. That group of people were seeking a belief system to match their lifestyle. So they tweaked EasternMysticism? and pulled out the requirements for discipline. From my probing into Christianity, this is probably due to the cultural transformation of the Christian religion from one requiring devotion and meditation as in the Catholic and Protestant faiths in Europe, to one requiring fulfillment of a checklist of activities -- a community club so to speak. The "hippie culture" became disgusted with the hypocrisy of their elders and rejected society. I wonder, was this due to the Catholic tendency to encourage participation from pagan "converts" by re-purposing Pagan holidays.

The WisdomOfTheEast is an ironic fulfillment of the deification cycle of eastern religions. If you look throughout history, there seems to be a cycle in Eastern religions were the original context of a spin-off religion is the lack of deities and some concept of enlightenment, which then those that achieve some level of purpose become deities to those people who later follow the new belief system. At some point, people adopt the belief system while removing the deities and the cycle continues. Today, people are still deified by society, yet SecularHumanism promotes a deification that limits the imagery of the person deified to mortality. Reference Chairman Mao from China, a mortal deity in Chinese culture.


WisdomOfTheEast is shorthand for a variety of different things: Hinduism, various flavors of Buddhism, Yoga (always HathaYoga? for some absurd reason), the Korean religious cocktail, the Japanese religious cocktail, or the Chinese religious cocktail. WisdomOfTheEast can also mean you are a fool who believes anything from East Asia. Below are a bunch of people arguing about which of the above definitions is correct.


The main attraction, I would think, is for people for whom 'East' is not 'right here', and who are looking for something 'other' to knock their thought patterns out of a rut (or who are trying to look glamorous and exotic, but I'm sure we're all far to grown-up for that around here...).

Long-winded geezers who spout the WisdomOfTheEast are ridiculous. If you don't laugh at 'em, yer ridiculous too! --EasternWuss


There is no attraction. You should ignore this stuff - it doesn't mean anything and won't help you do anything. Go back to your office and get back to work. -- PeterMerel

Beautiful!

Yes, responding to an honest question with a sarcastic, unhelpful answer is beautiful.

If my answer doesn't help you, go back to your office and get back to work. --PeterMerel


My own cynical guess is that sometimes the attraction is that it's vague, mystical, not subject to reason, and exotic. It's easy to think about philosophy (but hard to do it). It's a good way to avoid actually having to do something. Certainly this observation doesn't apply to anyone here, just to Those Other Guys. -- RonJeffries

You Jesuit. I think that the attraction is that Cartesian/Modernist/DivideAndConquer thinking is clearly unsuited to TheNextSetOfProblemsWeHaveToFace?. I look to other thinking traditions for insights into other approaches, having been brought up a proper Cartesian. -- KentBeck

However, it is worth noting that the Western mystic tradition includes ZenConcepts. A famous quote from the alchemical tradition is 'As above, so below' which is holism however you look at it. The search for the PhilosophersStone is the search for enlightenment.

Enlightenment? I thought it was about the gold?

Nope. The transformation of lead to gold is a metaphor for the transformation from the physical to the divine. No doubt many people took it literally, but the real alchemy covers the same ground as EasternMysticism?. See http://www.mishlove.com/virtual/hermeticism.htm for a take on the connections. So it's not all materialistic?


I think that devaluation of divide-and-conquer comes naturally with growth in expertise, as described in ShuHaRi (another easternism! although also described also by an American and a Dane I know). -- AlistairCockburn

Indeed, and the various religious crusades of only a few hundred years ago in the West have cut down on the accessibility of Western mysticism. I've recently started reading and practicing some ShamanicPractices that combine quite nicely with the Zen and Tao stuff. -- NickArgall


Can someone explain the disdain towards Zen and Taoism that I encounter in Korean, Chinese, and Japanese IT professionals? My co-worker was literally laughing at a book entitled "The Tao of Mentoring". (Upon further conversation, I find that he equates "Tao" with fortune-telling. -- KeithRay

Perhaps they feel the word "Tao" is oversold and misused in the US, I certainly think so. Would you laugh if you see a book entitled "Mentoring by the principles of the Free Market", or the "Teaching by Democracy"? Also, the word "Tao" implies a very high level of expertise or enlightenment, using it on anything less and we will recognize it as marketing speak immediately, and will probably show disrespect for it. -- OliverChung

Actually since Zen and Taoism are somewhat esoteric religions in the east, a better analogy would be "Mystic Mentoring" or "Teaching Psychically". Not that that's how I feel about Zen, but try not to snicker. -- StevenNewton

Most IT people, at least in East Asia, believe they are doing the most rational, logical and advanced, hence contemporary stuff among others. But the majority of Eastern thoughts are usually considered as pre-modern in East Asia. There was a period of self-denial and self-disdain in the early 20C in East Asia, and during the time, they equated anything Western with rational, logical, proved, and advanced hence scientific and useful in the real world; anything Eastern with irrational, superstitious, unproved hence useless and old-fashioned and outdated. As of now, however, the new emergence of recognition of Eastern thoughts over the West is awakening the East of the real values of their own traditions. Rediscovery of the old. -- JuneKim

It's the computer that does the rational and logical stuff. Programmers (good ones anyway) as well as scientists make heavy use of intuition (while often pretending to do otherwise), which is what I think much of this WisdomOfTheEast (Taoism, Zen) boils down to. There are similar philosophies associated with Islam (Sufism) and Christianity (Gnosticism) too. -- DonaldFisk

Most eastern programmers are familiar with this stuff as TaoChiao - ritualistic religion - and so scorn it. TaoChia is much better known in west than east these days. As for intuition, what's that?

And you've asked them?

Actually, yes, I have. I was interviewed by UmlChina last year after the publication of the TaoOfExtremeProgramming and spent about six hours in a chat room fielding questions from real live Chinese mainland software engineers. Not a representative sample, I admit, but I was very surprised to find that for most of them the quotes in my little article were the first they'd read of LaoTse in a philosophical mode. They'd have agreed with JuneKim above. Seems like sometimes you really can sell coals to Newcastle.

I don't understand why you associate Sufism and Gnosticism with ritualistic religion, and can only assume you understand neither.

I understand neither. I was addressing KeithRay's question. But why don't you elaborate on them a little here? I'd like to learn more.

Both are, in part, about achieving enlightenment or gnosis through mental exercises, as is, I am led to believe, Zen. There are plenty of books on both Gnosticism (e.g. by Elaine Pagels) and Sufism (e.g. by Idries Shah). There are also a few websites. These can only be considered an introduction, as they cannot be learned except through experience.

A common misconception. Zen is about sitting. ZaZen. There is no such thing as enlightenment. And as for gnosis I have no idea.

My understanding of Zen is limited, as I haven't experienced it and am from a different cultural background. http://www.darkzen.com/zenfaq.html contains a FAQ. By enlightenment I mean satori (http://www.darkzen.com/teachings/satori.htm). ZaZen is, AIUI just a meditation technique. Saying that Zen is just about ZaZen must be like saying that Islam is just about kneeling and facing Mecca.

ZaZen is Zen. The rest is just books about Zen and people making their livings by talking about Zen and climbing greasy poles by making up ever pithier things to say about Zen. In fact Zen is simpler than you think, even if you think zen is simpler than you think. ZaZen is all the Zen anyone gets - whether they call themselves grandmaster or not.

[Ha! Very funny. Zen is what happens when you get up off the cushion. ZaZen was invented to keep rambuncious child-students quiet in temples - more or less the equivalent of nap-time in kindergarden.]

If you don't have the beginner's mind, where do you find Zen? If you lose the beginner's mind, where did Zen go? How is a temple different from a kindergarten?

As for satori, it's a meaningless word from a meaningless way of life.

It's a subjective state. You cannot measure one, and so cannot tell whether someone else experiences it or not. You can only experience it yourself. This may sound unscientific, but there are some things unexplained (and possibly unexplainable) by science, and consciousness is one of them. You can believe satori doesn't exist, believe it does exist, or experience it.

Isn't that what I said?

No, you said Zen was about sitting, and satori is a meaningless word. Do you always dismiss things you don't understand as pointless and meaningless? Can't you accept that some people might have experiences different from yourself?

Ritual is more closely associated with pistic (faith-based) religions. As for intuition, if you have it, you won't need to ask what it is, and will realize that I can only define what it is not. If you don't have it, and only think logically, creativity becomes a problem. -- DonaldFisk

My intuition tells me to think logically about logic. My logic tells me to think intuitively about intuition. When my creativity becomes a problem I shut up and keep it to myself. --PeterMerel

If writing (i.e. designing) a program were purely a logical activity, you could write a program to do it, as you can for any other logical activity. But this has in general proven to be either impossible or too difficult to do. Programmers use intuition to do this.

Actually, for a limited range of programs, programmers can write programs that write programs. SelfModifyingCode isn't hard to do, though precious few programmers have found a use for it. And it may be that the range of programs you can write programs to write is in fact identical with the range of programs you yourself can write. We don't know enough about it yet to say.

We do know enough about it to know that there are some programs that, at least with the VonNeumannArchitecture, we ourselves can't write. The GeneralHaltingProblem tells us that. But no one has been able to demonstrate any peculiar physical properties of meat that makes it inherently superior to silicon when it comes to hosting program-writing programs, so this hardly makes the thing any more impossible or difficult than, say, walking on the moon was in 1950.

As for exactly how meat programmers write their programs, rather than making some non-predictive statement about it like "they use intuition to do it" or "they use memes to do it" or "god does it for them", why not stand up and be brave enough to say, "until a programmer writes a program that can write all the programs programmers write, all we know is we don't know how programmers write programs."? And if you can say that ten times fast I'll give you a lollipop.

CLOS-like systems (one of which I've implemented) do a lot of code generation (the accessor methods are written automatically, the before and after methods are attached before and after the primary method, etc.), and of course there are various systems that generate forms, but I was talking about the general case.

We already know how to write programs that follow rules and procedures. We don't know how to write programs that have intuition, though Eurisko, Aaron and other systems are to a limited extent creative, but as most people spend most of their working lives following rules and procedures, it makes more sense to put effort into automating that than trying to automate intuition, which is clearly harder if not impossible. The problem is that most of them like following rules and procedures, so will resent their jobs being automated away. -- DonaldFisk

Humans are cruft. Come TheSingularity they're due for a massive refactoring. :-)


Discussion moved to AreNeuronsStateMachines.

Funny, just the fact that you have a thought and put it up on the web is magical. The universe is big enough to contain magic (since it is infinite).

The universe is not infinite. ThereIsNoInfinity. None anywhere. The whole concept is just mathematical cruft.

"Accurate model", is an oxymoron. There is no such thing. Models approximate.

What do they approximate? Surely reality itself is only a model! Cf. WhatIsTao.

["The universe is not infinite" followed by "Surely reality itself is only a model!" conjoin into a perspective at odds with itself.]

How so?

When scientific dogma becomes recognized as such, most folks quickly abandon it and toss it into the relic pile.

Science has no dogma. It's incapable of dogma. Cf. the ScientificMethod. Scientists can be dogmatic. So can religionists. But where the latter requires faith the former requires none.

Not all religion requires faith. And all that matters in the scientific method is that theories are capable of being refuted by observation. There's no systematic way to do research, only to evaluate its results. -- DonaldFisk

WisdomOfTheEast, at a philosophical level, is concerned with observation that defies dogma and reductionist arguments such as the one above.''

Rubbish. There is no WisdomOfTheEast. It's a catch-all for everything from GoProverbs to WuWei. To suggest there is some coherent philosophy called WisdomOfTheEast that does this or that or some other specific thing is nonsense.


I suggest a book: Short History of Chinese Philosophy by Yu-Lan Fung, you can get a clear line of Chinese Philosophy, not only TaoTeChing, but also Ru Jia (created by KungFuTse), Fa Jia (created by Han Fei Zi), and etc.

Of course I think WisdomOfTheEast (I mainly mean the ChinesePhilosophy?) is attractive. But what I want to say here is that it maybe useful for this unpeaceful and anti-natural world, now. Because it is the Philosophy of Human, tell us how to keep zhong and he. -- GuangjunMa

When have zhong and he (zhong: How to get the just-right way to deal with everything;he: How to make a peaceful relationship between individuals, then countries) ever been kept in the history of the world? The WisdomOfTheEast is in accepting what happens, decay and renewal.

No, such time never exist. Because it's very difficult to keep it, although we have Li or WuWei. What we can do is trying to be close to it gradually. I think happens, decay and renewal is the nature's rule, which is called LunHui? (metempsychosis?), so no one and no country can keeps prosperous forever. -- GuangjunMa


I'm attracted by the "wisdom of the east" because some of it, particularly Hindu wisdom, has had a long time to collect without the interruption that Europe went through after the fall of Rome. My world history classes didn't teach much beyond European history. When I run into stuff like vedic science it gives me a better perspective on human history. I see patterns I wouldn't otherwise see. And a lot of this wisdom comes from people who figured out how to live good and happy lives and wanted to pass it along to their kids. I can use more of that. -- EricHodges

See Also: WhatIsTao, ZenConcepts

CategoryEasternThought CategoryOffTopic

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