Songs as an Informal University

We have already seen in “Songs as Another Kind of Parallel University” that trying to revive or rescue enchantment in a “disenchanted world” (Max Weber, “Entzauberung”) is a kind of philosophical “move” in love songs which has much to do with the impact on the West of the medieval troubadours.

Take this masterpiece song from the fifties musical My Fair Lady. Notice the explicit introduction of “enchantment” into the lyrics:

“On the Street Where You Live”

I have often walked
Down the street before,
But the pavement always stayed
Beneath my feet before
All at once am I
Several stories high,
Knowing I’m on the street where you live

Are there lilac trees
In the heart of town?
Can you hear a lark in any other part of town?
Does enchantment pour
Out of every door?
No, it’s just on the street where you live

And oh, the towering feeling
Just to know somehow you are near
The overpowering feeling
That any second you may suddenly appear

People stop and stare
They don’t bother me,
For there’s no where else on earth
That I would rather be

Let the time go by,
I won’t care if I
Can be here on the street where you live

People stop and stare
They don’t bother me,
For there’s no where else on earth
That I would rather be
Let the time go by
I won’t care if I
Can be here on the street where you live,
Can be here on the street where you live,
Can be here on the street where you live

The enchantment of love is also at the center of the song by Seals & Crofts, “We May Never Pass This Way (Again)” from decades ago. In the same way that Jim Morrison and the Doors capture life’s basic randomized “thrownness” (Heidegger, “Geworfenheit”), Seals & Crofts capture life’s one-time ephemerality, as the title signals immediately:

“We May Never Pass This Way (Again)”

So they say
Is but a game and they’d let it slip away
Like the autumn sun
Should be dyin’
But it’s only just begun

Like the twilight in the road up ahead
They don’t see just where we’re goin’
And all the secrets in the universe
Whisper in our ears
All the years will come and go
Take us up
Always up

We may never pass this way again
We may never pass this way again
We may never pass this way again

So they say
Are for the fools and they let ’em drift away
Like the silent dove
Should be flyin’
But it’s only just begun

Like Columbus in the olden days
We must gather all our courage
Sail our ships out on the open seas
Cast away our fears
And all the years will come and go
Take us up
Always up

We may never pass this way again
We may never pass this way again
We may never pass this way again

I wanna laugh while the laughin’ is easy
I wanna cry if makes it worthwhile
I may never pass this way again
That’s why I want it with you

You make me feel like I’m more than a friend
Like I’m the journey and you’re the journey’s end
I may never pass this way again
That’s why I want it with you

We may never pass this way again
We may never pass this way again
We may never pass this way again
We may never pass this way again

After deeply drinking in this and other songs, you could become more “attuned” to academic philosophy which would become less of an abstract and insipid blur. Pre-awareness and pre-understanding give you the receptivity you need and you get these from movies and songs and private life. The trick is to use meta-intelligence to straddle the campus and the off-campus worlds.

Songs as Another Kind of Parallel University

Meta Intelligence is a heterodox view of education where formal education (courses, diplomas, universities, fields) are incomplete and limited without adding informal education which is part of your life such as movies, songs, conversations and images (paintings, posters, etc). Your “lifeworld” (Edmund Husserl’s apt coinage) fuses all the kinds of education where the word education means thought-provoking and illuminating. Even personal experience counts such as illnesses or bad marriages! Only via this Meta Intelligence will you achieve a glimpsed “holism.” (Meta Intelligence is that meta-field outside fields, borders and boundaries.)

Take songs.

Think back to Jim Morrison’s classic tune, “Riders on the Storm” which begins:

“Riders on the storm
Riders on the storm
Into this house, we’re born
Into this world, we’re thrown
Like a dog without a bone
An actor out on loan
Riders on the storm”

This song (by the Doors), expresses in a simple way Heidegger’s notion of human existence as partly governed by “Geworfenheit” which derives from “werfen,” to throw. “Geworfenheit” means “thrownness.” Jim Morrison and his band the Doors are songphilosophers without (probably) being Heidegger’s acolytes. Max Weber, one of the fathers of modern sociology, uses the word “disenchantment” to describe the modern world, “Entzauberung” in German, where “zauber” means “magicality” and “ent” means “removal of,” and “ung” means “condition of being.” The magic here does not mean something like a card trick but rather sacred mysteries, perhaps like the feeling a medieval European felt on entering a cathedral.

Enchantment in the West survived in our notions of romantic love and was associated with the songs and outlook of the medieval troubadours. Such romantic enchantment which is fading from our culture in favor of sex is still celebrated in the classic Rogers and Hammerstein song, “Some Enchanted Evening” from the forties musical and fifties movie, South Pacific.

The song lyrics give you the philosophy of romantic love as the last stand of enchantment:

“Some enchanted evening, you may see a stranger,
You may see a stranger across a crowded room,
And somehow you know, you know even then,
That somehow you’ll see here again and again.
Some enchanted evening, someone may be laughing,
You may hear her laughing across a crowded room,
And night after night, as strange as it seems,
The sound of her laughter will sing in your dreams.

“Who can explain it, who can tell you why?
Fools give you reasons, wise men never try.

“Some enchanted evening, when you find your true love,
When you hear her call you across a crowded room,
Then fly to her side and make her your own,
Or all through your life you may dream all alone.

“Once you have found her, never let her go,
Once you have found her, never let her go.”

Notice that “chant” is a component of enchantment.

One could say that conventional enchantment has been transferred to the world of science and mathematics where a deep beauty is intuited. Professor Frank Wilczek of MIT (Nobel Prize) wrote several books on this intersection of science and the quest for beauty whereas Sabine Hossenfelder of Germany has argued, per contra, that this will be a “bum steer.”

You should sense that like movies, songs give you a “side window” or back door into thinking and knowledge, which should be center stage and not depreciated.

Japanese Philosopher KARATANI Kōjin (柄谷 行人) Awarded the 2022 Berggruen Prize

An expansive thinker who crosses boundaries.

[from Nōema Magazine, by Nathan Gardels, Editor-in-Chief]

KARATANI Kōjin has been named this year’s laureate for the $1 million Berggruen Prize for Culture and Philosophy. An expansive thinker who straddles East and West while crossing disciplinary boundaries, Karatani is not only one of Japan’s most esteemed literary critics, but a highly original mind who has turned key suppositions of Western philosophy on their heads.

In Karatani’s sharpest departure from conventional wisdom, he locates the origins of philosophy not in Athens, but in the earlier Ionian culture that greatly influenced the so-called “pre-Socratic thinkers” such as Heraclitus and Parmenides. Their ideas centered on the flux of constant change, in which “matter moves itself” without the gods, and the oneness of all being—a philosophical outlook closer to Daoist and Buddhist thought than to Plato’s later metaphysics, which posited that, as Karatani puts it, “the soul rules matter.”

In the political realm, Karatani contrasts the form of self-rule from Ionian times based on free and equal reciprocity among all inhabitants — “isonomia” — with what he calls the “degraded democracy” of Athens that rested on slavery and conquest. He considers the former the better foundation for a just polity.

In a novel twist on classical categorizations, Karatani regards Socrates himself as fitting into the pre-Socratic mold. “If one wants to properly consider the pre-Socratics, one must include Socrates in their number,” he writes. “Socrates was the last person to try to re-institute Ionian thought in politics.”

A Degraded Form of Democracy in Athens

For Karatani, Athenian democracy was debased because it was “constrained by the distinctions between public and private, and spiritual and manual labor,” a duality of existence that Socrates and the pre-Socratics sought to dismantle. As a result, by Karatani’s reading, Socrates was both held in contempt by the “aristocratic faction,” which sought to preserve its privileges built on the labor of others, and condemned to death by a narrow-minded mobocracy for his idiosyncratic insistence on autonomy and liberty in pursuit of truth.

Appalled at Socrates’ fate, Plato blamed democracy for giving birth to demagoguery and tyranny, radically rejecting the idea of rule by the masses and proposing instead a political order governed by philosophers. In Karatani’s reckoning, Plato then “took as his life’s work driving out the Ionian spirit that touched off Athenian democracy”—in short, throwing out the baby with the bathwater but maintaining the disassociations, such as citizen and slave, that follow from the distinction between public and private grounded in an apprehension of reality that separates the spiritual from the material.

In order to refute “Platonic metaphysics,” Karatani argues, “it is precisely Socrates that is required.”

Turning Marx On His Head

In his seminal work, The Structure of World History, Karatani flips Marx’s core tenet that the economic “mode of production” is the substructure of society that determines all else. He postulates instead that it is the ever-shifting “modes of exchange” among capital, the state and nation which together shape the social order.

For Karatani, historically cultivated norms and beliefs about fairness and justice, including universal religions, compel the state to regulate inequality within the mythic commonality of the nation, which sees itself as whole people, tempering the logic of the unfettered market. As he sees it, the siren call of reciprocity and equality has remained deeply resonant throughout the ages, drawing history toward a return to the original ideal of isonomia.

Expanding the Space of Civil Society

Not an armchair philosopher, Karatani has actively promoted a modern form of the kind of reciprocity he saw in ancient Ionian culture, which he calls “associationism.” In practical terms in Japan, this entails the activation of civil society, such as through citizens’ assemblies, that would exercise self-rule from the bottom up.

In the wake of the Fukushima nuclear accident in 2011, Karatani famously called for “a society where people demonstrate” that would expand the space of civil society and constrict the collusive power of Japan’s political, bureaucratic and corporate establishment. Like other activists, he blamed this closed system of governance that shuts out the voices of ordinary citizens for fatally mismanaging the nuclear power industry in a country where earthquakes and tsunamis are an ever-present danger.

An Expansive Mind

Along with The Structure of World History (2014) and Isonomia and The Origins of Philosophy (2017), the breadth of Karatani’s interests and erudition are readily evident in the titles of his many other books. These include Nation and Aesthetics: On Kant and Freud (2017), History and Repetition (2011), Transcritique: On Kant and Marx (2003), Architecture As Metaphor: Language, Number, Money (1995) and Origins of Modern Japanese Literature (1993).

The prize ceremony will be held in Tokyo in the spring.

Education and Word and Number Hidden Vagueness

These mini-essays help students of any age to re-understand education in a deeper and more connected way.

They look for “circum-spective” intelligence. (Not in the sense of prudential or cautious but in the sense of “around-looking.”)

One of the things to begin to see is that explaining things in schools is misleading “ab initio” (i.e., from the beginning).

Let’s do an example:

In basic algebra, you’re asked: what happens to (x2 – 1)/(x – 1) as x “goes to” (i.e., becomes) 1.

If you look at the numerator (thing on top), x2 is also 1 (since 1 times 1 is 1) and (1 – 1) is zero. The denominator is also (1 – 1) and zero.

Thus you get 0 divided by 0.

You’re then told that’s a no-no and that’s because zeros and infinities lead to all kinds of arithmetic “bad behavior” or singularities.

You’re then supposed to see that x2 – 1 can be re-written as (x – 1)(x + 1) and since “like cancels like,” you cancel the x – 1 is the numerator and denominator and “get rid” of it.

This leaves simply x + 1. So, as x goes to 1, x + 1 goes to 2 and you have a “legitimate” answer and have bypassed the impasse of 0 acting badly (i.e., zero divided by zero).

If you re-understand all this more slowly you’ll see that there are endless potential confusions:

For example: you cannot say that (x2 – 1)/(x – 1) = x + 1 since looking at the two sides of the equal sign shows different expressions which are not equal.

They’re also not really equivalent.

You could say that coming up with x + 1 is a workaround or a “reduced form” or a “downstream rewrite” of (x2 – 1)/(x – 1).

This reminds us of the endless confusions in high school science: if you combine hydrogen gas (H2) with oxygen gas (O2) you don’t get water (H2O). Water is the result of a chemical reaction giving you a compound.

A mixture is not a compound. Chemistry is based on this distinction.

Math and science for that matter, are based on taking a formula or expression (like the one we saw above) and “de-cluttering” it or “shaking loose” a variant form which is not identical and not the same but functionally equivalent in a restricted way.

A lot of students who fail to follow high school or college science sense these and other “language and number” problems of hidden vagueness.
School courses punish students who “muse” to themselves about hidden vagueness. This behavior is pre-defined as “bad woolgathering” but we turn this upside down and claim it is potentially “good woolgathering” and might lead to enchantment which then underlies progress in getting past one’s fear of something like math or science or anything else.

One is surrounded by this layer of reality on all sides, what Wittgenstein calls “philosophy problems which are really language games.”

Think of daily life: you say to someone: “you can count one me.” You mean trust, rely on, depend on, where count on is a “set phrase.” (The origin of the phrase and how it became a set phrase is probably unknowable and lost in the mists of time.)

“You can count on me” does not mean you can stand on me and then count something…one, two, three.

In other words in all kinds of language (English, say, or math as a language) one is constantly “skating over” such logic-and-nuance-and-meaning issues.

The genius Kurt Gödel (Einstein’s walk around buddy at Princeton) saw this in a deep way and said that it’s deeply surprising that languages work at all (spoken, written or mathematical) since the bilateral sharing of these ambiguities would seem deadly to any clarity at all and communication itself would seem a rather unlikely outcome.

You could also say that drama giants of the twentieth century like Pinter, Ionesco and Beckett, intuit these difficulties which then underlie their plays.

All of this together gives you a more “composite” “circum-spective” view of what is really happening in knowledge acquisition.

Education and the Question of Intuition

An intuition pump is a thought experiment structured to allow the thinker to use his or her intuition to develop an answer to a problem. The phrase was popularized in the 1991 book Consciousness Explained by Tufts philosophy and neuroscience professor, Daniel Dennett.

We argue in this education-completing book, that our intuitions are puzzling in a way that “intuition pump” talk does not cope with at all.

Let’s go immediately to the example of simple versus compound interest in basic finance.

You borrow $100.00 for a year at an annual interest of 100%, without compounding and hence simple. A year passes and you owe the lender the initial $100 plus one hundred percent of this amount (i.e., another hundred). In a year, you owe $200.00, and every year thereafter, if the lender is willing to extend the loan, you owe another hundred to “rent” the initial hundred.

This is written as A+iA, where A is the initial amount (i.e., $100.00) and i is the interest. This can be re-written as A(1+i)n where n is the number of years. Thus, if n=1, you owe: A(1+i), which is 100×2 (i.e., the $200 we just saw). There’s nothing tricky in this.

You then are introduced to compound interest (i.e., where the interest accumulates interest). You can see where compounding by 6 months (semi-annually, or half a year) or 12 months involves dividing the n (the exponent over 1+i) by 12 months, two half-years or 365 days. You could routinely go to days and hours and minutes and seconds and nanoseconds and you could calculate interest payments compounding for each case.

But here is where your intuition falters and fails: suppose you compound continuously?

You get to the number e as growth factor where e=2.71823

Simple algebra does show that at 100% interest, $100 of a loan becomes $100 multiplied by e1 (hundred percent=1) or just e (i.e., you owe $100e).

This gives you $271.82.

So what has happened?

At one hundred percent simple interest you owe $200.00 to the lender. Continuous compounding means you owe $271.82. Instead of owing $100 in interest, you owe $171.82. Your interest bill has gone up by $71.82 or about 72 percent.

Does that seem intuitive? Probably not.

How could one ever apply an “intuition pump” to this arithmetic? We get to the 72% increase in interest by using e which has nothing very intuitive about it. Thus it’s not clear that “intuition pumps” will work here.

You use compound interest arithmetic to get a number which you would never have been able to estimate based on standard intuition since like the 22/7 or 3.14 for π (pi), there’s nothing to “recommend” 2.71823 in and of itself. This means that the link between computational arithmetic understanding and your “gut” or “sixth sense” is feeble at best.

By exploring this way of thinking you could deepen your “meta-intelligence” (i.e., perspective-enhancement). The British economist Pigou (Keynes’s teacher) says that people have a “defective telescopic facility” (i.e., have a poor or even erroneous sense of time-distance).

How one might strengthen one’s sense of time-distance or “far horizons” is not clear.

Education and the “Knowability” Problem

There was a wonderful PBS Nature episode in 2006 called “The Queen of Trees” [full video, YouTube] which went into details about the survival strategy and rhythms and interactions with the environment of one tree in Africa and all the complexities this involves:

This Nature episode explores the evolution of a fig tree in Africa and its only pollinator, the fig wasp. This film takes us through a journey of intertwining relationships. It shows how the fig (queen) tree is life sustaining for an entire range of species, from plants, to insects, to other animals and even mammals. These other species are in turn life-sustaining to the fig tree itself. It could not survive without the interaction of all these different creatures and the various functions they perform. This is one of the single greatest documented (on video) examples of the wonders of our natural world; the intricacies involved for survival and ensuring the perpetual existence of species.

It shows us how fragile the balance is between survival and extinction.

One can begin to see that the tree/animal/bacteria/season/roots/climate interaction is highly complex and not quite fully understood to this day.

The fact that one tree yields new information every time we probe into it gives you a “meta” (i.e., meta-intelligent) clue that final theories of the cosmos and fully unified theories of physics will be elusive at best and unreachable at worst. If one can hardly pin down the workings of a single tree, does it sound plausible that “everything that is” from the electron to galaxy clusters to multiverses will be captured by an equation? The objective answer has to be: not particularly.

Think of the quest of the great unifiers like the great philosopherphysicist Hermann Weyl (died in 1955, like Einstein):

Since the 19th century, some physicists, notably Albert Einstein, have attempted to develop a single theoretical framework that can account for all the fundamental forces of nature–a unified field theory. Classical unified field theories are attempts to create a unified field theory based on classical physics. In particular, unification of gravitation and electromagnetism was actively pursued by several physicists and mathematicians in the years between the two World Wars. This work spurred the purely mathematical development of differential geometry.

Hermann Klaus Hugo Weyl (9 November, 1885 – 8 December, 1955) was a German mathematician, theoretical physicist and philosopher. Although much of his working life was spent in Zürich, Switzerland and then Princeton, New Jersey, he is associated with the University of Göttingen tradition of mathematics, represented by David Hilbert and Hermann Minkowski.

His research has had major significance for theoretical physics as well as purely mathematical disciplines including number theory. He was one of the most influential mathematicians of the twentieth century, and an important member of the Institute for Advanced Study during its early years.

Weyl published technical and some general works on space, time, matter, philosophy, logic, symmetry and the history of mathematics. He was one of the first to conceive of combining general relativity with the laws of electromagnetism. While no mathematician of his generation aspired to the “universalism” of Henri Poincaré or Hilbert, Weyl came as close as anyone.

Weyl is quoted as saying:

“I am bold enough to believe that the whole of physical phenomena may be derived from one single universal world-law of the greatest mathematical simplicity.”

(The Trouble with Physics, Lee Smolin, Houghton Mifflin Co., 2006, page 46)

This reminds one of Stephen Hawking’s credo that he repeated often and without wavering, that the rational human mind would soon understand “the mind of God.”

This WeylHawkingEinstein program of “knowing the mind of God” via a world-equation seems both extremely charming and beautiful, as a human quest, but potentially mono-maniacal à la Captain Ahab in Moby-Dick. The reason that only Ishmael survives the sinking of the ship, the Pequod, is that he has become non-monomaniacal and accepts the variegatedness of the world and thus achieves a more moderate view of human existence and its limits. “The Whiteness of the Whale” chapter in the novel gives you Melville’s sense (from 1851) of the unknowability of some final world-reality or world-theory or world-equation.

Education: Linguistic and Arithmetic Elusiveness

We wish to sensitize the student to the obvious-but-hard-to-see truth that both language and arithmetic have slippery natures built into them and seeing this clearly is a part of deeper education, our mission here.

Take four simple statements and see that they’re entwined and “confusing.”

  1. You can count (i.e., numeracy).
  2. You can count (depend) on me.
  3. You don’t count (i.e., importance).
  4. Count (include) me in.

When a person says, “you can count on me” do they mean that you will be standing on me and then go, “one apple, two apples, three apples” (i.e., count in the everyday sense). No, obviously not. “On” in this context is not physical or locational, but figurative. Ask yourself: how is it that you know the difference and nuances of all these meanings given that the word count and the preposition “on” seem straightforward but are really “polyvalent.”

Wittgenstein tells us that philosophy and its conundrums are ultimately based on “language games.”

When Gadamer (Heidegger’s student) tells us that “man is a linguistic creature” he means, among other things, that man “swims” in this ambiguity ocean every moment and puns and jokes aside, handles these ambiguities automatically, somehow. How does a child acquiring language get the sense of all this? It’s difficult to understand and explain. Language is both our nature and somehow beyond our grasp.

The same slipperiness, in a different way, holds for arithmetic and numbers. You can immediately see that the square root of 16 is 4 (plus or minus) but if you are asked, “what is the square root of seventeen?” you’d be “at sea” without a calculator. If you’re now asked, what is the square root of -17 (negative seventeen), you would probably be lost.

These would seem to be very basic “operations” and yet are baffling in their way and parallel the “sudden difficulties” in language use and orientation and clarity.

Deep and “meta-intelligent” education, which we promote here, begins by seeing, among other things, that both our ability to function while “swimming” among words and numbers is puzzling if you look at them “freshly.”

It’s also not so easy to define exactly what reading and writing are in the first place or why exactly the smile in Leonardo da Vinci’s Mona Lisa painting is enigmatic.

When one glimpses the truth that we are surrounded by obvious things that are never really obvious, one pauses and thinks. This is where (self) “re-education” begins, especially if “enchantment” (genuine magical fascination) accompanies the thinking.

Some Historical Notes on the Three Quests of China: Dignity, Stability, Understanding

Dignity Quest

In “The Philosopher,” a chapter in the 1922 travel book On a Chinese Screen, W. Somerset Maugham comments, “He was the greatest authority in China on Confucian learning.”

The philosopher mentioned above tells Maugham: 

“I took the Ph.D. in Berlin, you know,” he said.  “And afterwards I studied in Oxford.   …  But his study of Western philosophy had only served in the end to satisfy him that wisdom after all was to be found within the limits of the Confucian canon.  He accepted its philosophy with conviction.  If Confucianism gained so firm a hold on the Chinese it is because it explained and expressed them as no other system of thought could do.  He loathed the modern cry for individualism.  For him society was the unit, and the family the foundation of society.  He upheld the old China and the old school, monarchy, and the rigid canon of Confucius.  He grew violent and bitter as he spoke of the students fresh from foreign universities, who with sacrilegious hands tore down the oldest civilization in the world. ”

“But you, do you know what you are doing?” he exclaimed. “What is the reason for which you deem yourselves our betters? Have you excelled us in arts or letters? Have our thinkers been less profound than yours? Has our civilization been less elaborate, less complicated, less refined than yours? Why, when you lived in caves and clothed yourselves with skins we were a cultured people. Do you know that we tried an experiment which is unique in the history of the world? We sought to rule this great country not by force, but by wisdom. And for centuries we succeeded. Then why does the white man despise the yellow? Shall I tell you? Because he has invented the machine gun. That is your superiority. We are a defenseless horde and you can blow us into eternity. You have shattered the dream of our philosophers that the world could be governed by the power of law and order. And now you are teaching our young men your secret. You have thrust your hideous inventions upon us. Do you not know that we have a genius for mechanics? Do you not know that there are in this country four hundred millions of the most practical and industrious people in the world? Do you think it will take us long to learn? And what will become of your superiority when the yellow man can make as good guns as the white and fire them as straight? You have appealed to the machine gun and by the machine gun shall you be judged.”

Stability Quest

  1. The decade of the 1850s gives a most revealing picture of the Chinese sense of things falling apart.  The Taiping Rebellion, convulsed China in the 1850s. It was a utopian movement which wants to go backwards and forwards at the same time and arrive at a historical paradise.

  2. From 1859-1860, the Second Opium War racks China. The British extract more concessions from the Chinese by the Treaty of Tientsin, a tremendous new humiliation for the Chinese. As part of Britishshock and awe” of that time the Summer Palace in Beijing is burned down.

  3. In Chinese society, to add to this misery, there is a tremendous conflict in China between the Hakka (客家, “Guest People”) with the Punti (本地, “Native/Original People”) called the HakkaPunti conflict, and is referred to in the movie The Hawaiians, based on the James Michener novel.

  4. All of this Chinese turmoil and national weakness is itself taking place in a global context that is threatening. Commodore Perry and his “Black Ships” sail into Edo Bay (now Tokyo Bay) in 1853, to dictate terms to the Japanese which amount to “trade or die” (an Americanshock and awe”).

  5. In 1857-1858, India convulses with the Indian Mutiny, which has been described as the opening chapter of the Indian Independence Movement. The Indian Mutiny, also known as the Sepoy Mutiny, was put down with shocking brutality. The Chinese watching the event, feel rage about the insouciant attitude of Westerners towards non-Western people.(A recent masterpiece Human Smoke by Nicholson Baker shows you the same insouciant attitude in the Bengal Famine of the 1940s and with Churchill’s dismissive comments about the human misery.) The Chinese who were studying news reports coming out of India suddenly learnt that control of India in 1858 was transferred permanently from the East India Company to the Crown, showing that the British could change the rules of the game at will.

  6. In the 19th century Chinese and Japanese thinkers came up with two definitive slogans, which they used to orient themselves.

    Slogan One

    “Western Technology, Eastern Ethics.” What is the balance point between West and the East? Xi Jinping (习近平) is also trying to find a balance. How American must a Chinese Silicon Valley have to be?

    Slogan Two

    “Rich Country, Strong Army.” How fast could China become a rich country with a strong army, without provoking a global backlash—think Chinese leaders since Mao.

  7. Certain opaque and chaotic phenomena in Chinese history haunt the Chinese mind. Mao was reading Chinese historians all his life to try to understand these phenomena. Chinese schoolboys are trying to understand the rebellion called the An Lu-Shan (安禄山) of 755-763, which takes place in the middle of the Tang Dynasty and plunges China into chaos. Leaders, scholars and schoolchildren of China want to decipher the events of this very classic rebellion in Chinese history and to understand what they are always trying to understand: how things go bad. An Lu-Shan was of Turkish and Sogdian origins, which created another kind of nervousness: turmoil in China coming from non-Chinese ethnic groups. Chinese brutality toward both the Tibetans and the Muslims within China echo these anxieties. This classical rebellion is interpreted by Chinese as the beginning of the end of the Tang Dynasty, the first Chinese Golden Age. China’s preoccupation with stability comes from its insecurity about national turmoil such as the An Lu-Shan Rebellion case, which could merge with foreign threats creating a nightmare for China.

  8. China was conquered by the Mongols who created the Yuan Dynasty circa 1300 A.D. China was conquered by the Manchus from 1644-1911. The Japanese assaulted China in the 1930s. Europeans colonized and broke China into pieces in the 19th century. The ultimate symbol of China’s defeat was the two Opium Wars—1839 and 1859—by the British. The tremendous humiliation suffered by the Chinese is masterfully conveyed by Arthur Waley’s classic book, The Opium War Through Chinese Eyes.

Quest to Understand

China and Charles Darwin, by James Pusey, captures the perplexity of the Western intellectual impact on China in the last few lines of the book. “But Charles Darwin honestly entered those mixtures in Chinese heads and made them different. So his influence was real. Chinese of course confused Darwin’s ideas and were confused by them, and of course they got confused in Chinese directions, but small wonder. Every people has gotten confused. For the fact of the matter is, when all is said and done, that no one knows what to make of evolution.”

Many Western ideas and philosophies are troubling and destabilizing for the Chinese such as, individualism before society and family; marriage based on romantic love alone; a society based on innovate-or-die.

The Chinese quest for such modes of stability has a perennial quality.

Education and Wittgenstein “Language Games”

It is instructive for a student to get a grip on the whole question of “language games” à la Wittgenstein, who says that these “games” (i.e., ambiguities) are central to thinking in general and thinking about philosophy in particular.

Let’s make up our own example and step back from the meaning of the preposition “in.”

The comb is in my back pocket has nothing to do with the “in” of “he’s in a good mood” or “he’s in a hurry” or “he’s in a jam or pickle” or “he’s in trouble.” Furthermore, in modern deterministic neuroscience language, a good mood is a footnote to brain and blood chemicals so that means that a good mood is in you via chemicals and not you in it.

Does the word “jam” here mean difficulty or somehow the condiment called jam? You don’t know and can never without more information (i.e., meaningful context).

Imagine we take a time machine and are standing in front of the home of Charles Dickens in London in his time say in the 1840s. They say he’s working on a new novel called Oliver Twist.

Someone says: a novel by Dickens is a kind of “fictional universe.” Shall we say that because Dickens is in his home (at home) in London (though in London is itself confusing since London as a city is not like a pocket to a comb or wallet) his fictional universe is “in” the universe which might be a multiverse according to current cosmological speculations? That’s not what we mean. The fictional universe of Dickens is a shared cultural abstraction involving his stories, characters, people absorbing his tales, his mind and our mind, books and discussions. A fictional universe is as “weird” as the other universe. The preposition “in” does not begin to capture what’s going on which is socio-cultural and not “physicalistic.”

We begin to intuit that everyday language which we use and handle as the most obvious thing in the world in constant use, is completely confusing once you look at it more clearly.

Einstein’s friend at Princeton, Kurt Gödel, looked into language as a logical phenomenon and concluded that it’s entirely puzzling that two people could actually speak and understand one another given the ambiguities and open-endedness of language.

A language-game (German: Sprachspiel) is a philosophical concept developed by Ludwig Wittgenstein, referring to simple examples of language use and the actions into which the language is woven. Wittgenstein argued that a word or even a sentence has meaning only as a result of the “rule” of the “game” being played. Depending on the context, for example, the utterance “Water!” could be an order, the answer to a question, or some other form of communication.

In his work, Philosophical Investigations (1953), Ludwig Wittgenstein regularly referred to the concept of language-games. Wittgenstein rejected the idea that language is somehow separate and corresponding to reality, and he argued that concepts do not need clarity for meaning. Wittgenstein used the term “language-game” to designate forms of language simpler than the entirety of a language itself, “consisting of language and the actions into which it is woven” and connected by family resemblance (German: Familienähnlichkeit).

The concept was intended “to bring into prominence the fact that the speaking of language is part of an activity, or a form of life,” which gives language its meaning.

Wittgenstein develops this discussion of games into the key notion of a “language-game.”

Gödel saw that language has deep built-in ambiguities which were as puzzling as math and logic ones:

Gödel’s (died in 1978) incompleteness theorems are two theorems of mathematical logic that demonstrate the inherent limitations of every formal axiomatic system capable of modeling basic arithmetic. These results, published by Kurt Gödel in 1931, are important both in mathematical logic and in the philosophy of mathematics.

Take any simple sentence: say, “men now count.”

Without a human context of meaning, how would you ever decide if this means count in the sense of numeracy (one apple, two apples, etc.) or something entirely from another domain (i.e. males got the vote in a certain country and now “count” in that sense).

When you say, “count me in” or count me out,” how does that make any sense without idiomatic language exposure?

If you look at all the meanings of “count” in the dictionary and how many set phrases or idioms involve the word “count,” you will immediately get the sense that without a human “life-world” (to use a Husserl phrase), you could never be sure of any message or sentence at all involving such a fecund word.

One task of real education is to put these difficulties on the student’s plate and not avoid them.

Linguistics as such is not what’s at issue but rather a “meta-intelligent” sense of language, written or spoken as highly mysterious with or without the research into vocal cords, language genes (FOXP2, say) or auditory science and the study of palates or glottal stops and fricatives, grammars and syntax.

Seeing this promotes deep education (i.e., where understanding touches holism in an enchanting way).