The Dance of the Tao and the Ten Thousand Things

The dance of the Tao and the ten thousand things

‘The knowledge which is knowable is not the eternal knowledge,
The Tao that is namable is not the eternal Tao.
Naming gives rise to the ten thousand things.
The ten thousand things can obscure you from the Tao.’

Knowledge here is with a lower case “k”.

It can be useful, but has a confidence interval that is Bayesian and always less than 100%. This is the Newtonian theory of gravity before general relativity, then Einsteinian gravity before the next deepening insight. This is what Issac Asimov was getting at when he called science ‘the ever righting of wrong’.

This doesn’t mean all hypotheses are equally good descriptions, of course not. And we should seek empirically and logically better models with greater explanatory power and usefulness.

Remembering all utility can also be towards destructive ends, intentionally or accidentally. Specifically because models are reductionist and don’t include all of reality, whatever is real and related but not included in the model is often where the externalized harm from the application of the utility of the model will occur.

The model of reality is never the actual reality it’s modeling. It always has lower fidelity and complexity, more ability to understand and control, offering greater (albeit unwarranted) certainty.

There may be awareness of some of what the model is excluding (known unknowns), but it is certainly also excluding things where it is not even known they are being excluded (the unknown unknowns). There is no way to prove this isn’t the case. And the history of new discoveries in areas we already had useful models clearly demonstrates this.

As we discover, unknown unknowns become known unknowns (we become aware of new things we didn’t even know we were unaware about before) faster than known unknowns become known. So this process doesn’t even converge towards knowledge with a capital “K”. The ten thousand things simply become the ten trillion things.

Again, there is value in this process. And there can even be great beauty in it. So long as it is clear what it is and isn’t.

Reality, the Tao, the Sacred… Can be sensed as something like a kind of incomprehensible wholeness (those words are about as good and as inadequate as any others we might try to use here).

The model of reality can be useful. Treating the model as if it is Reality is false idol worship. The hell, the disconnection from the Spirit (the Tao), one is plunged into is where they can no longer sense Reality because they are trying to pattern fit it into their model…so their senses (and even intuition and curiosity) deaden to the details and nuances outside of the relevance filters their models tune their finite attention to…or insist that it can all be subsumed by the model, eg, this is surely just made of atoms and forces, or this is all the result of evolutionary processes, or it’s just a vibration on an 11-dimensional superstring, or this is just information processes on some type of computational substrate, or qualia arising within my own phenomenology…

God is a word for linguistic creatures to have a place holder for the fundamentally incomprehensible. As such, there should be no beliefs about it, or certainties, one way or the other. To be able to believe in something, one has to be able to define the belief in some way. Anything that admits to such definition and believability is in the domain of the ten thousand things.

“A human being is a part of the whole, called by us, “Universe,” a part limited in time and space. He experiences himself, his thoughts and feelings as something separated from the rest — a kind of optical delusion of his consciousness.”
-Albert Einstein

Are atoms real? Kind of. Assuming the frames and axioms of the model, sure. And very usefully so. The periodic table has amazing and intricate order, and chemistry has been profoundly effective and useful.

And…are atoms really real? What would the atom in question be without the electromagnetic field? Without the strong force? Or the gluons that mediate it? Or the Higgs field? Or the nebulae that birthed the star that supernovaed to create the atom in question? It wouldn’t exist without all of those things. And yet none of them are included in the definition of it. They are necessary but taken for granted. The wholeness of universe and all the interrelationships within are taken for granted when we isolate one part and try to name it and model it. The fact that it can be conceptually isolated does not mean it can be actually isolated, which it can’t (we have no way even in principle of isolating anything from the fundamental fields or from space or time themselves). This just means the conceptual model is based on a kind of isolation and reduction that is inherently alien to the actual nature of the reality it is modeling.

‘Every day in the acquisition of knowledge, something is gained.
Every day in the practice of the Tao, something is dropped.’

And both are worthwhile. They can even dance together. They can even honor each other.

In studying the biology of a plant, I can deaden myself to the real plant. I can see it as its Latin name and know things about its genetics and genus and species and evolutionary environment and medicinal and chemical properties and ecological niches it inhabits and creates…and in doing so, have less attention on the utter uniqueness of this life in front of me, the infinity about it I will never know, and as such, have missed the opportunity to really see it. But if instead, I take my knowledge of the complexity of cellular metabolism and evolution and the connection of the plant with all the other plants I can see around me through the ecology of the mycorrhiza and soil microbiome and its gas exchange with me to know we are literally made of the stuff of each other and have porous boundaries…and I consider all of that complexity and integrity and beauty and order and wildness and intelligence…and remember that all that information isn’t even a measurable fraction of all that is actually going on…and use the knowledge to prime an even deeper wonder and respect and reverence and awe…then the practice of knowledge and the practice of the Tao are dancing.

Our knowledge becomes more well-founded and less certain at the same time.

The model and the modeling process and impulse are all aspects of the Tao. The surprising logical intercongruence of all scientific insight is a glimpse of the wholeness of the infinite expressed through the finite as something like order.

The essence of the thingness of something can be thought of as an emergent reality, from the interactions of all that is within and without, interacting with the membrane of the thing. If you try to find it in its parts, or its contexts, you will miss it. The uniqueness is irreducible and not adequately expressible through a weighted combination of other characteristics. While also being inseparable from them. Inexorably interconnected and irreducibly unique simultaneously. This is the spirit or the essence of a thing, the Tao inherent in all that is.