2010年6月30日 星期三

The Need to Confront Our Shadow

Not everyone is a Christian. But everyone is a sinner. In a sense, we are all sinners, not only against others, but also against ourselves. But as taught by Jesus, though not necessarily in the way he preached, there can be salvation. The salvation can come only through a death. Without a death, there cannot be a resurrection. Without dying to our old self, the new self cannot be born: a new and more integrated self, a new self in which a part of ourselves which we previously strenuously deny existed is after much struggle, much difficulties and a great deal of pain, finally accepted as part of our "self", as part of the Jungian "collective unconscious/archetype" manifesting itself within our individual psyche. The need for this new life, for this resurrection often becomes manifest in what has often been termed "a mid-life crisis", any time between early or late 40s to the 60s and for women, around menopause.

In the article, "For the Man at Midlife", Daniel J Levinson, a noted psychologist says that during this mid-life transition, "a man reviews his life and considers how to give it greater meaning...He must come to terms in a new way with destruction and creation as fundamental aspects of life." This is often prompted by the death of his parents, the death of his friends, the death of his friends' parents, the death of his lover, a job change which make him sit up and take a serious look at what he has done, what he has failed to do up to that stage in his life, after he has achieved a certain amount of success, when he still has a last chance to make something of himself before he follows in the path of those whose sudden death prompted him to start reviewing his own life. He wants to be more creative. The acute sense of his own ultimate destruction intensifies his wish for creation. But "the creative impulse is not to 'make' something. It is to bring something into being, to give birth, to generate life. A song, a painting, even a spoon or toy, if made in a spirit of creation, takes on an independent existence. In the mind of its creator, it has a being of its own and will enrich the lives of those who are engaged with it" says Levinson.  

Death and destruction are everywhere. Levinson says, "In Nature, each species eats certain others and is eaten by still others". That is the law of the jungle, whether we choose to acknowledge this or not, whether we wish to admit it or not. "The geological evolution of the earth involves a process of destruction and transformation. To construct anything, something else must be destructured and restructured." he says. In the course of our lives up to our mid-life crisis, we must have some experience of destruction: we may have hurt others' self-esteem, hindered their development, kept them from seeking or finding what they wanted most and others might have done the same to us, including to and by those closest to us, our loved ones. In this review, this reappraisal, we will come to a new understanding of our grievances against others for the real or imagined damage they have done to us and we feel a certain rage against our parents, wife, mentors, friends and loved ones who as we now see it, have hurt us badly. We must come to terms with our own guilt, in causing those kinds of hurts to others and to ourselves. We ask ourselves: "How have I failed my adult responsibilities for loved ones and for enterprises that affect many persons? How have I failed myself and destroyed my own possibilities? How can I live with the guilt and remorse?"

To Levinson, this new understanding of the role of destructiveness may be unconscious. What is involved is the "reworking of painful feelings and experiences." Some articulate this new awareness in words,others in music, painting or poetry. Most simply live it out in their daily lives. But whatever form it takes, we must come to terms with our grievances and our guilts of ourselves both "as victims or as villains in the continuing tale of man's inhumanity to man.". If we are overburdened by this guilt or if we deny it by maintaining the illusion that destructiveness does not exist, we will be impaired in our capacity for creating, for loving and affirming life: as a father, we may have disciplined our children "for the best of reasons and the worst of effects". As a lover, our feelings may have cooled and we may have withdrawn from the relationship and may have left the other feeling hurt, abandoned, deserted, betrayed and thus irreparably damaged their self-esteem and future prospects. "To have the power to do great good, we must bear the burden of knowing that we will cause some harm--and in the end, perhaps, more harm than good." We must come to terms with the fact that at times, we may feel "hatred and revulsion", when we would like to "leave or assault our loved ones, when we find them intolerably cruel, disparaging, petty, controlling. We often feel an intense rage or bitterness without knowing what brought it on or toward whom it is directed. Finally, we have actually done hurtful things to loved ones on purpose--with the worst of intentions and in some cases with the worst of consequences". We must learn about "the heritage of anger, against others and against ourselves, that we have carreid within ourselves from childhood" and also the the angers we have accumulated in our adult life building on and amplifying our childhood angers and place them within the wider context against the creative, life-affirming forces and find ways to integrate them in our lives. According to Levinson, this re-learning however, "cannot be acquired simply by reading a few books, taking a few courses, or even having some psychotherapy, though all of these may contribute to a long-term developmental process. The main learning goes on within the fabric of one's life...we often learn by going through intense periods of suffering, confusion, rage against others and ourselves, grief over lost opportunities and lost parts of the self".

To Levinson, we must acquire what Unamuno has called a "tragic sense of life": the realization that great misfortunes and failures are not merely imposed upon us from without but are largely the result of our own tragic flaws within. He says, " a tragic story is not merely a sad story" where the hero dies or fails or is rejected by his special love and where the unfortunate outcome is brought by enemies, poor conditions, bad luck or some unexpected deficiency in the hero but it stems from an internal flaw, a "qualtiy of character that is an intrinsic part of the heroic striving" : usually hubris or arrogance, ego inflation, sense of his own omnipotence and destructiveness. "The nobility and the defect are two sides of the same heroic coin." Although the hero does not attain what he originally set out to do, he is ultimately victorious. In a different sense, he has not been defeated. He achieves something even greater: he confronts his profound inner faults, accepts them as part of himself and of humanity and is in some degree transformed into a nobler person. "The personal transformation outweighs the worldly defeat and suffering." to Levinsion.

As philosophers are never tired of reminding us, we must know ourselves. Often our worst enemy may not be in the world. Our own worst enemy is within us, in our own psyche. We are our own worst enemy. We must learn to be honest, and mercilessly honest and re-examine our own lives and assess it coolly, calmly, dispassionately, objectively. If we do, we will find our own "tragic flaws", our own weaknesses which we are so loathe to admit, which we are so anxious to deny, which we project on to our "enemies" outside. In short, we must confront our own shadow.  After this excruciatingly painful and merciless stripping off of the mask which we have built up through the years with such care, we can then heal it. We heal it with an eternal balm. We heal it with love. We can love not only others. We can also love ourselves. Love means first of all understanding and with understanding goes acceptance. We must accept that we are not the angel that we strive so hard to convince others that we are. We may also be a devil. But we are not only devil either. We are a devil-like angel or an angel-like devil!

2010年6月29日 星期二

Know Your Own Shadow

I have talked about the demon, the daimon or our shadow and how it may unconsciously wreak havoc in our lives and in the lives of others without our knowing about how it works,without our being aware of it. We now know that the shadow, the darkness which is ours, is something or someone we cannot escape but which is something most difficult to contact because it is by nature elusive as it is the reflection of ourselves when there is no light. But surely the important thing is to get to know what that shadow in ourselves may look like. If we do not, we shall have no way of dealing with it.

In the article "Writing About the Other" Deena Metzger skteches for us her way of helping us to get to grips with our own shadow. Metzger begins with something very obvious: "to contact the shadow, we must be willing to go into the dark, for that is where it lives." We must learn to build a partnership with our shadow because if we do not, we run the risk of its coming to us in a furtive and violent manner. Yet in coming towards it, we may have to face the risk of being engulfed by it. In the dark, we often feel as if we ourselves are the dark, that we have become that darkness. Yet there is no other way. We must learn what our shadow looks like. Our shadow is our other face, a secret self, the dark side of our soul, our psyche.

How then do we meet our own shadow? First, we must concede that there are parts of ourselves that we consider absolutely foreign and alien, something we abhor, we disdain, something we deny. But we must admit that these parts, horrific as they are, are still part of ourselves. Our conscious self and our unconscious shadow form a continuum. To access it, we need to first of all to show to the shadow that we are no longer hostile to it. We must be friendly to our own darkness before it may be encouraged to reveal itself further to us. We must offer it our olive branch.

We all know that the shadow lengthens with sunset, as the night approaches. The sun is our reason. If we wish the shadow to emerge, first we must for the sake of encouraging the shadow to emerge from the darkness, hide itself for a while and stop the sharpness of its analytic sword, as the rays of sunlight dull and blur the sharpness of its edges as the sun dims in the twilight. We must stop thinking. We must learn to be aware when our brain is working and gently bid it to slow down, to stop before the shadow will reveal itself.

Next, Metzger asks us to ask ourselves calmly but honestly a series of probing questions: What are those qualities or attributes in "others" that we find least like ourselves? Who hates us most? What are our own most intractable prejudices? With what kind of people we find ourselves the least comfortable? With what kind of people we feel the least affinity?What kind of people revolt, offend, terrify or enrage us? What kind of people we consider "beneath" us? What kind of behavior we find "grotesque"? Under what kind of circumstances would we feel too humiliated to continue  living? What kind of horror within ourselves would we find most unbearable? We must write down our answers. After we have done that, we may find that some of such aversions are based on moral or ethical judgement and that many of them will fill us with repugnance, contempt, loathing, revulsion and nausea. These are all part of our shadow.  They live within our shadow.

Then what we do is that we allow a character to formulate itself: someone with a name, a personality, a history. We must know where she lives, what her house looks like, what she eats for lunch, what she thinks, what she fears, what she wants, dreams about etc. If one is called Peter, we call him Peter II. We must be friendly with Peter II and ask him as a bosom friend everything we want to know about him and enter into a dialogue with him. The idea is to get a psychological or personality sketch of him.

Another method suggested by Metzger to enable what our shadow looks like is for us to "imagine" that our life is threatened. To escape, we must create another identity, a false cover. The cover must be perfect. It must be so like ourselve and yet so different that we can be perfectly disguised while living the life of this our double. Who is this character we become to disguise ourselves and thereby save our own life? We imagine ourselves invisible and follow through every moment of that alter ego's day or week, and observe him/her alone and with others. What does this other character think when unable to sleep at 3 a.m. in the morning. What secrets, griefs, insights are we privy to? What essential part of ourselves is covered by this persona? In thus questioning and probing and discovering this other "self", we must be curious about everything but we must be careful not to make any judgment, nor to criticize him or her. We must do our best not to allow our own personal biases and fears to contaminate or to destroy the observation and revelations that occur.

After we have completed this second step, we will have a fair idea of what our shadow looks like. This shadow is our sibling, born of the same parents. Then we must go on to write down what our relationship with this sibling is. We must project ourselves imaginatively into the past, when we were still friendly with this other self, this Peter II. We then ask when the two parted company and started pursuing different lives. Imagine ourselves to be our own parents reminiscing about each of these two parts of ourselves, talking about their differences and similarities.

Finally, Metzger asks us to allow this sibling, this other, this enemy, this cover to look back at our present self. Allow this character to speak to us in his or her own voice and to create a portrait of us. From this other perspective, how do we look? As the other has developed a voice, enter into dialogue with each other. What is it you each want to know?

The shadow whose outlines and personality sketch thus created is in fact a part of ourself. It has always been with us. It is in fact not separate from us. We can now look at this other character from both sides, from the inside and from the outside. Metzger says that there is this irony " the one with whom you have created an island of communality and mutual understanding is utterly other and the one who is utterly other is the one whom you can understand perfectly". Then we are asked to imagine ourselves living the other's life and finally imagine the death of the shadow self. How does that shadow die, given the kind of personality that it has?

To Metzger, the shadow never dies. We always cast a shadow. The important thing is how we relate to it. Once it is known, we have inevitably lost an innocence that can never be recovered. "What replaces it is a knowledge of the complexity of our nature.". She says, "in the end, what remains is what we can only come to know, when we are alone, naked, and the light is behind us." She ends the article with a poem by Wendell Berry:

                   I go among trees and sit still.

                   All my stirring becomes quiet

                   around me like circles on water.

                   My tasks lie in their places

                   where I left them, asleep like cattle.

                   Then what is afraid of me comes

                   and lives a while in my sight.

                   What it fears in me leaves me,

                    and the fear of me leaves it. 

                    It sings, and I hear its song.


                     Then what I am afraid comes,

                     I live for a while in its light.

                     What I fear in it leaves it

                     and the fear of it leaves me.

                     It sings, and I hear its song.

If we want our lives to be whole, we must become friends with our own shadow. We must respect its right to its own life.  We do not attack our friends. We try to know our friends. We try to understand our friends. When our friends are in a temper, we try to calm them down. That's all. Is that it?

2010年6月27日 星期日

A Lone Violin outside the Cathedral

I stared loneliness in the face, outside of the Cathedral this morning. He appeared in the tiny porch at the side of the Cathedral, waiting for the rain to stop. I was there too for the same purpose. I didn't bring an umbrella. He had one though. But he preferred to wait with a few others there. The 11 o'clock service had just ended. Father Lau was there to say good bye to the departing faithfuls. I was reading the Kung Kao Po to while away the time. There was no sign that the rain was going to stop any time soon.

Suddenly I heard a voice. I lifted my eyes. The voice belonged to a broad brown face. There was a full head of black hair above that face, probably dyed. I knew that face. I would sell religious books once a month, outside of the Parishioners' Hall, on the first Sunday of each month. From time to time, he would appear in front of the row of two long tables upon which my fellow volunteer and I would display the items on sale: biblical stories with beautifully drawn and coloured pictures, cartoons, with big prints, books on the lives of the saints, books about religious pilgrimmages, children's books on how to deal with their emotions in school, at home and various social situations, books on how to imitate the life of Christ,  English and Chinese bibles published by various  subsidised or official church organizations, books on spiritual devotional practices, books on church liturgy, children's stories in English or Chinese at different levels of difficulties for different ages, books by priests on what they encountered in their ministries, bookmarks with mottos from the psalms or the sayings of Jesus and from time to time various religious trinkets and sometimes books other religious organizations placed with us for sale on their behalves etc.

Sometimes, he would appear with an old black violin case, as today. Its edges were frrayed and freckled with white mould dots. He apparently did not think it important to keep it clean. He would tuck it under one of his arms or he would swing it by its handle in one of his hands. He would stand there observing me, from a distance. When he noticed that I had no customers, he would gingerly approach. He would give me a shy smile. I would smile back. Then he would start talking. He would tell me how the people who wrote certain of the Chinese hymns did not really know what they were doing because they did not match the sound of some of the Cantonese words to the music so that a very odd and ridiculous effect would be produced. He had probably told me the same story maybe twenty times already. I could hear the sense of loss, the sense of frustration, the sense of not being respected in his voice. He would still be smarting from the rancor he first experienced when, at the time that he told the priest in charge of the choir of his disovery and asked for the relevant hymn book to be revised to remove that terrible and utterly unacceptable musical defect, he would be met by the remark of a younger man who was supposed to be "better qualified" academically then heading the church choir, that it was not as important as he thought. He would then demonstrate to me how "wrong" it sounded by actually singing the offending word right in front of me. He had a nice soprano voice. He would then go on about how he was once the head of that choir. He was probably talking about the Cathedral when he was still in his late 20s! Then he would sigh a sigh of regret about the good old times when his word was law in the choir! Although he often carried the violin with him I don't think he was a good violin player. He played it once for me when I was selling books. His fingering was unsteady, his positioning was poor and his sense of  rhythm appalling. But it made him feel good to parade himself before the others as a "violinist".

Today, he asked me gingerly whether he could consult me on my "opinion as a fellow church goer" on a matter which to him was of the utmost importance. I said of course, if it was important to him and I could be of help. Then he started. He told me that what he found was that some one was messing aound with his papers at his public housing unit in Shek Kip Mei. He did not know who it was. I asked him whether he had any idea. He said it might be a thief who had targeted him. So I asked him whether he lost any document of importance. He said he did not but that the person just kept messing up his papers. So I asked him if he arranged his documents neatly into bundles according to their nature or had arranged them in any kind of order. He said he had not. I told him that he better start doing that so that the next time anything was messed up, he would immediately know by any change he later discover in the order in which he arranged those documents. And if not, then he might conclude that the "guy" who messed them up might be he himself. He said he had forgotten about how his documents were arranged. But he insisted that it was messed up some one else.

What is even more surprising. He told me that he had the "heart" of the lock to the entrance to his unit changed once a week. I asked him if he had given his key to any person. He said he did not. So I told him that in that case, it was even more improbable that any one could have entered his house without his knowledge. But he said, "No, no. I am sure that this guy got in. Just that I did not know how. " I said no one who did not have his keys could get in especially when he changed the lock once a week. But he insisted that he was right. So I asked him to suggest any reason how that person could have got in without his new key every week. I said to get into his house every week, this "guy" must be looking for something important and I asked him if he had discovered any money or valuables or any documents had been lost. He said nothing had been lost. I asked him that if so, what possible reason would this guy have for wanting to "mess up his papers" as he suggested. He hemmed and horred but could not give me any answer.

Then the unfortunate violinist volunteered another piece of information. He said he had already installed a security system at his door so that only when he telephoned his house telephone with his mobile would the front entrance door unlock itself and in addition had bought a pin hole camera and installed it to monitor the place where his documents were messed up. But he said that the monitor did not work! So he reported the matter to the police and told them that he suspected the man who sold the pin hole camera to him was acting in collusion with the "guy" who messed up his papers. I asked him if the police found anything. He said the police are now looking into the matter and would tell him later. I said his case was certainly very odd: his papers were constantly being messed up, yet nothing was lost and this "guy" could enter his house despite his once a week lock change and despite his security system whereby he needed to telephone his own house line before his front entrance door would unlock and yet so far had not stolen anything after so many weeks. If what he told me was true then the one who messed up his papers could only have been a "ghost" , if there is any such thing. I suggested that he was worrying too much. I told him that if nothing had been lost after so many weeks, then the reasonable thing for him to do would be to stop worrying and stop making himself feeling so anxious for nothing.

But the man was not persuaded. He insisted that he needed to resolve this problem and asked me how the problem could be solved. I told him the problem might exist not in reality but only in his mind and that if he were to ask me, then I would say that the best thing he could do to help himself to resolve this "problem" was to stop worrying over "nothing". But he still insisted that he was sure he was right. I said to him, "If  you are so sure that you are right and that my advice is useless, then why is it that after hearing it, you still want my opnion?"  Then he said, "Yes, I am sure I am right."  I asked him again to consider my opinion that there was no one who messed up his papers and to stop wasting money to change his door lock and to spend further sums of money to resolve his "problem" and to make use of the money to buy himself  a proper meal. But he still insisted and asked me what he could do. What he needed is not to resolve the problem but to dissolve it! I told him that he asked for my opinion and that I had already given it to him and if he were to ask again, I would still repeat the answers that I had already given and asked him whether apart from what he already asked, he had any other matter he needed to ask me. He merely repeated that same "problem". I knew then that the man was suffering from a mild or moderate case of "persecution complex" or "paranoia". He did not need me. He needed a clinical psychogist or a psychiatrist.

Despite my reply, he was still looking at me and expected me to answer his "non-existent" problem. I looked at him in the eye and told him in categorical terms that I had nothing further to add even if he continued to look at me. Then he told me he had a cataract with his eyes. I told him to register him at a government eye clinic for a minor surgery and that it was a simple operation and he could go out from the clinic the same day and that there was nothing to worry about. He then told me that he had already done so. So I told him that in that case, all he had to do was to wait for his turn for that operation to be done. I knew that there was nothing further I could do for him there except to refer him to a clinical psychologist. Then he opened his umbrella and hobbled away. The violinist is obviously a very lonely man, a man full of insecurity. I understand from his previous voluntary confessions that before he was laid off and had to rely on public assistance, he was a species of construction site technician, is now well over 65 and single. All that he has for company now is his devotion to his violin playing, to God and his faded memories of past glories and from time to time a few minutes of the time of a  less indifferent stranger in this blurry world seen through his contaracted eyes. How desperate is he for just a little sympathy, a little care and concern! I can only say a prayer for him, if there is a God who would listen to man's prayer. Just in case there is, I did so.

Prokofiev and Yuja Wang

I am both unhappy and happy this week. I missed the performance of Krystian Zimerman on Wednesday evening! And not for lack of a ticket! It never happened before. I blame it on our electoral reforms. When I was leaving the office after an extremely busy day, one of our  secretaries told me that she would be going outside the Legislative Assembly Building to give support to the protesters and asked me if I would like to go. Then we got into a long discussion on the pros and cons of the political reform. As it was about to rain and I didn't have an umbrella, I had to hurry home before the rain started. Once home, I had so many domestic chores to attend to, bank statements and utility bills etc to be filed, junk mail to be thrown away, dirty socks and laundry to be stuffed into the washing machine but above all, I had to watch what was going on inside and outside the Legislative Assembly on the 24-hour news channel. I watched and watched and watched and completely forgot about the concert! I learned later that Mr Chu did call me at my mobile several times to remind me of the concert but my phone was dead! I failed to charge it! So I was destined to miss it!  I fully deserve to be kicked 10 times on the shin! How could I!!! Must be getting old. I got even madder at myself when Mr Chu told me last night what a superb concert it was! Will I get another chance? God knows. But I certainly missed this one!

But I got a consolation prize last night. I heard the performance of Yuja Wang. But before that I heard Symphony No. 1 in D, Opus 25 of Sergei Prokofiev by the HKPO led by a very good conductor from the PRC called Muhai Tang.  The No. 1 was a classical symphony which Prokofiev wrote with Haydn in mind. Prokofiev was a child prodigy. He wrote his first composition at 5, a first "opera" at 9 and was admitted to the St. Petersburg Conservatory at 13! He wrote the No.1 just to prove to his tutor Glazunov, who walked out of a performance of his Scythian Suite, that he could write a symphony in the classical style, if he wanted to and not just produce those dissonant notes which the latter did not like.  But it still had some novel features in it. He said he composed it whilst walking through the fields. It was a very happy symphony and certainly one of his most popular. Many of its themes have been used in films. The first movement plunges into the main theme right from the start and then repeats it by various sections. The second contains one of the most romantic melodies ever written. The final ( in vivace molto) is really fast and furiously happy, with an inimitable lilting rhythm which ends with the full orchestra exploding in a sea of sonic joy. 

The highlight of the evening was of course the long awaited play of Yuja Wang. She entered the hall in an eye-catching and body-hugging bright red evening dress of very light material with three red bands across her shoulders and the middle of her bare back and long thin white arms. She is really slim. It looked as if she got an enormous head over a match-stick body. I can never forget how long her fingers are as portrayed on the cover photo on the Programme Notes. She certainly put them to good use. She played for us Piano Concerto No. 3 in C Op. 26 which Prokofiev first began whilst he was still a student and which he completed a decade later in Britanny after having gone through the first world war, being exiled in America before going to France to devote himself completely to composition and then premiered it in Chicago in December 1921. According to the Programme Notes, what is new in the concerto was a series of ascending parallel chords in the lst movement, 5 contrasting variations in the second, only white notes in the third. It was concerto requiring the most contrasting techniques across the whole range of the keyboard, very powerful and forceful chords amidst the fastest and lightest run of the keys. But it appeared to be a piece of cake for Yuja. It was wonderful to be able to watch her play. She appeared to enjoy every minute of it. Not only did she play with perfect technical skill. She played with both her head and her heart. As expected, the applause was thunderous. And we got two encores from her including  a waltz from Chopin. I heard the other but could not remember from what piece it was which had been played by Richter before. Needless to say, it was a tough night for my hands. I am surprised I could still use them after I was done with my clapping. But I can listen to her without further injury to my hands. I got both of her CD's , the previous Sonatas and Etudes and the recent Transformation, just released not more than 2 months ago. And she was so polite. When she bowed, which she did many many times because she had to come out more than 4 times, she would bow so low that her head reached almost the level of her knees! I never saw such a "deep" bow, from any performer!

The second part of the concert was another very popular piece:  Nicolai Rimsky-Korsakov's Scheherazade, which I first heard more than 30 years ago from the make-shift hi fi room at the drug store below my now demolished home. It was one of the most picturesque pieces of programme music ever written. The 4 movements were written after the Arabian Tales of 1001 Nights: The sea and Sinbad's ship, the tale of the Kalender Prince, the Young Prince and Princess and finally the Festival at Baghdad--the Shipwreck.  Of course, it was nothing compared to Celibadache's rendition of it or even that of Gergiev but it was still quite good, although I found that it could have done with a bit more of continuity in places. It required solo passages from the first violin, oboe, clarinet and flute and the cello sections and of the lyre, which all played very well indeed. The HKPO was conducted last night by Muhai Tang, a stout and sturdy young Chinese who has been the Artistic Director and Chief Conductor of the Zurich Chamber Orchestra since 2006. He has a very relaxed conducting style but from time to time, he would hunch his back and hold both his arms high and suddenly bring them down in lightning swift motion to emphasize where different sections or the whole of the orchestra must come down or come in whilst at other times he would let his body move up and down in tune with the lilting rhythm of the music. He uses his left hand instead of the baton, quite a lot, moving his finger in complex little waves, Gergiev like. His Prokofiev No. 1 and the Piano Concerto No, 2 were excellent. Perhaps there was insufficient time to rehearse the Scheherazade. I really have no idea. But I had absolutely no regrets to have to brave the wind and rain to attend this "compensation concert" last night! 

2010年6月26日 星期六

Resuming Evil

On my blog of 16th June, I mentioned three articles which I read. I introduced one of them. For various reasons connected with the intervening events including work and various other social engagements, I didn't have time to deal with the last of the three. It is now weekend. It's as good a time as any for me to resume where I left off.

In The Basic Dynamic of Human Evil, Ernest Becker, who survived the Nazi concentration camp and then went on to become a psychologist, compared the works of three psychologists: Otto Rank, Wilhem Reich and Carl Jung who all dissented from Freud in one way or another.

To Rank, man has a will to prosper and aslo to achieve some kind of immortality. But he also knows that he is mortal, something connected to the animal side of his existence. So he tries his best to deny what he fears most, a nameless and faceless death. But he does not do so outwardly and explicitly. His fears are buried deep through repression which for the time being, gives to everyday life a certain "tranquil façade". Only occasionally does his desperation show through. But even then, not in the life of every person either. According to Becker, some men "live in a dimension of carefreeness, trust, hope and joy which gives them a buoyancy behind that which repression alone could give. This is achieved by the symbolic engineering of culture which serves as an antidote to terror by giving them a new and durable life beyond that of the body.

Wilhem Reich shares the same view. In his book, The Mass Psychology of Fascism, he explained why men tried to be other than he is ie. to deny his animal nature. This to Becker is the cause of all psychic illness. Fascism promises to engineer the world so that it may raise man above his natural destiny. To him, this "unleased on mankind regular and massive miseries that primitive societies encountered only occasionally and usually on a small scale"'. To Reich, the theory of the German superman "has its origins in man's effort to dissociate himself from the animal." Hitler portrayed the Jews as lying in wait in the dark alley ready to infect young German virgins with syphilis! The Jews were made the scapegoat for all German ills. He says, "Natural science is constantly drilling into man's consciousness that fundamentally, he is a worm in the universe. The political plague-monger is constantly harping upon the fact that man is not an animal, but a 'zoon politicon' ie. a non-animal, un upholder of values, a 'moral being'. How much mischief has been perpetuated by the Platonic philosophy of the state!...Man does not want to be reminded of the fact that he is fundamentally a sexual animal. He does not want to be an animal." Many psychologists however think that this denial is grounded in the psyche from earliest childhood. They talk about "good obejcts" and "bad objects", about paranoid stages of development, of denials, split-off segments of the psyche which includes a death enclave.

But to Becker, Jung sums it up best by talking about man's shadow in the human psyche. To him. "the shadow is another way of referring to the individual's sense of creature inferiority: the shadow is the other side, the expression of our own imperfection, our earthiness, the negative incompatible with the absolute values ie. the horror of passing life and the knowledge of death! Man wants to get away from this inferiority, to "jump over his own shadow'"! How? By looking for everyting "dark, inferior, and culpable" in the others!

To Becker, man is not comfortable with guilt: it chokes him. Erich Neumann sums it up nicely: "The guilt feeling is attributable ...to the apperception of the shadow...This guilt-feeling based on the existence of the shadow is discharged from the system in the same way both by the individual and the collective--by the ...projection of the shadow..which is in conflict with the acknowledged values [the cultural façade over animality] cannot be accepted as a negative part of one's own psychic and is therefore projected--that is, transferred to the outside world and experienced as an outside object. It is combatted, punished, and exterminated as 'the alien out there' instead of being dealt with as one's own inner problem." This is the basis of "scapegoating". It is the "split off sense of inferiority and animality" which is projected onto the scapegoat and then destroyed symbolically with him. No wonder that Jung concludes, "the principal and indeed the only thing which is wrong with the world is man"'!

Scapegoating is universal: Jesus, Jews, the Arabs, the immigrants, the blacks, those who rely on public assistance, the old, the weak, the uneducated, the anti-revotuionaries, the reactionaries, the enemy of the people, the terrrorists, the black sheep of the family etc.  Do we not see our own shadows in all societies in all historical periods?


2010年6月25日 星期五

Something Light for a Friday

Thank God, it's Friday. What with the agitation and hullaballo outside our Legislative Assembly Building the night before last with its truckloads of abusive language and the excessive show of "emotions" for what should otherwise be a fairly "rational" political issue of concern to the whole of Hong Kong and the recent discussion about the memories of the pains of the past within this blog, perhaps it's time for a little "fun" and "relaxation".

I just got a good joke from a friend relating to the policies of a certain government which I think might with some imagination be made to apply to our own. Here it is:

Productive Salesmanship

The kids filed back into class Monday morning. They were very excited. Their weekend assignment was to sell something, then give a talk on productive salesmanship.

Little Sally led off: "I sold girl scout cookies and I made $30," she said proudly, "My sales approach was to appeal to the customer's civil spirit and I credit that approach for my obvious success."

"Very good," said the teacher.

Little Jenny was next: "I sold magazines," she said, "I made $45 and I explained to everyone that magazines would keep them up on current events."

"Very good, Jenny," said the teacher..

Eventually, it was Little Johnny's turn.

The teacher held her breath ...

Little Johnny walked to the front of the classroom and dumped a box full of cash on the teacher's desk. "2,012," he said.

"2,012!" cried the teacher, "What in the world were you selling?"

"Toothbrushes," said Little Johnny.

"Toothbrushes!" echoed the teacher, "How could you possibly sell enough tooth brushes to make that much money?"

"I found the busiest corner in town," said Little Johnny, "I set up a Dip & Chip stand and gave everybody who walked by a free sample."

They all said the same thing, "Hey, this tastes like dog shit!"

Then I would say,"It is dog shit. Wanna buy a toothbrush?"

"I used the governmental approach of giving you something shitty for free, and then making you pay to get the shitty taste out of your mouth."

Have a good weekend!

2010年6月24日 星期四

Good Bye to Good Memories

Everyone thinks that he has an excellent memory until he discovers the embarrassing truth! This is  Restak's message in one of the chapters of his book The Naked Brain. In the chapter entitled "Make My Memory", he says that people will often say that even though generally their memories fade with time, there is an exception. They'll say that if something is sufficiently emotionally arousing, they'll remember it for years. Is that so?

To Restak, this type of "flashbulb memory", e.g the events of 911, this heightened memory of some emotionally arousing events is often taken to be a kind "gold standard of accuracy." But not so! Heike Schmolck of the Baylor College of Medicine, recorded what his subjects said three days after the verdict of the O J Simpson trial, then 15 and then 32 months later and found that after 15 months, only half of what the subjects remember match their original and only 11% had major discrepancy but after 32 months the figures were 29% and and 40% respectively. He found that the longer the time since the relevant event happened, the more the brain "re-arranged the memory of such events: "While we remember situations very well that went along with the emotions, emotions don't help us memorize facts.".  Richard McNally of Harvard, another memory expert said that " in many instances, memory for the central gist of something that happened is retained, whereas memory for details fades or changes.".

Something called "memory morphing" ie. the creation of false memories of something which never actually happened is already being practised on us by marketers. Research by market-oriented psychologists say that 25% of normal adults will accept the suggestion that they had been lost at age 5 in a shopping mall and been rescued by an elderly person or that as a child they had spilled a bowl of punch at a wedding. According to a paper entitled "Make My Memory: How Advertising Can Change our Memories of the Past", people can with imaginative suggestion, be led to believe that they had experiences that were manufactured. If one were told to imagine being lost at age 5, we are twice as likely than the controls, to express 2 weeks later, that the event actually happened. The technical term for this is "imagination inflation.". Thus many marketers will add phrases like "original", "old-fahioned", "since 1924" etc. to their products to provide their customers with the basis for forming a false memory, an illusion of a childhood experience they never had.

We are more suggestible than we think. In an experiment, participants drank an unpleasant-tasting orange drink spiked with salt and vinegar, then looked at an advertisements suggesting that the drink was "refreshing" and were then asked whether they liked it. A good proportion of the participants reported that they found the drink "refreshing".! Our memories are not "recalled": they are "reconstructed" from different sensory modes. Hence, they are " frequently lost, distorted or drastically altered," says Restak. Our state of mind at the time at the time of recall will also affect such recall. If we are sufficiently depressed, we may even alter our memories of what seemed happy at the time to such an extent that they took on a dark and forboding tone. "The more social neurosceintists delve into the bramble bush of human memory, the less secure we should feel about the reliability of our own memories."

If, we are shown, for example, a trailer of a film of an upcoming movie and formed an impression and are then shown a professional review either positive or negative, even our "memory" of how we originally felt may change according to a study by Kathryn Braun and Gerald Zaltman of Harvard Graduate School of Business Administration, even when the participants were specifically reminded to respond according to their initial opinion, not their opinion after reading the reveiw. Braun says, "Consumers can be influenced to recall prior experience differently and in a manner consistent with a marketing communication, without being aware that what they recall has changed"! Moreover, they were not even aware that they had altered their memory of their first impression! This is called "backward framing." But in "forward framing", we are told ahead of time what we are likely to experience when we see a particular movie. If we are shown a positive review, people are more likely to see the movie. That's why we see so many positive reviews on the internet of the relevant films being shown. In an experiment with a rigged Disney advertisement suggesting that children visiting Disneyland would have the chance to shake hands with Bugs Bunny (something impossible because Bugs Bunny is a Warners Brothers character), yet 16% of the adults who read the ad "recalled" meeting Bugs Bunny  during a childhood visit to Disneyland but no one who had not read the rigged ad recalled such a meeting! Braun says that "In some sense, life is a continual memory alteration experiment where memories continually are being shaped by new incoming information. And in marketing the alteration will occur whether or not that was the intent of the marketer." Therefore, she warns us that we ought to be aware of that power and that we might have been influenced, without our even being aware of it.

Marketing people are now using contextual advertising to positively influence the customer's feelings about their products. This is how Gerald Zaltman describes it: "A Coke ad depicting teens dancing at a party to a particular style of music activates one neuron cluster, thus producing a particular experience of Coca-Cola. Antoher ad showing a baby polar bear and baby seal sharing a Coke activates a different neuron cluster, thus producing yet another experience. The two social settings depicted in the ads have different meanings for an individual and thus are likely to activiate different internally stored Coke associations.". This applies several principles of memory: we understand something new by associating it with a known past experience; memories are generalized based on typical rather than specific examples; each time we remember something, we unconsciously induce subtle changes in the details of that specific recollection. An advertisement will thus be most effective if it presents information combined with a subtle emotional underpinning.

We are entering the age where science is being used in the interest of commerce. Brand loyalty is being built by associating a particular brand with pleasant and positive emotional experiences because the cost of acquiring new customers is about 5 times the cost of maintaining establshed ones. According to Restak's investigation, making brand loyalists out of just 5 % more customers leads, on average, to an increase in profit per customer between 25 and 100 %. That is what the "no question asked"  return policies are all about! We are misled through the activation of specific regions in our brain associated with the generation of emotions by having positive emotions being subtly and imperceptibly linked to the relevant products by the advertisers suggesting true or even possibly "false" memory association! If we are not vigilant, we shall be the unwitting victims of our psychology!.

2010年6月23日 星期三

A New Brain for a New Century?

The recent political debate has prompted me to explore the mysteries of the human brain: how it works, how it may affect our emotions, our thinking and through our thinking, our action through our memory, belief systems and how the latter may themselves be affected by the new environment in which the human race has to live. I read a chapter of "The Naked Brain" (How the Emerging Neuorscience is changing How we Live, Work and Love (2006) by Richard Restak, M.D. He has written extensively on the functioning of the human brain e.g. Brainscapes (What Neuroscience has learned about the structure, function and abilities of the Brain (1995) Mysteries of the Mind (2000), The Secret Life of the Brain (2001) Poe's Heart and the Mountain Climber (Exploring the Effect of Anxiety on Our Brains and Our Culture) (2004), Mozart's Brain and the Fighter Pilot (Unleashing Your Brain's Potential) (2005), The Brain has a Mind of its Own (Insights from a Practising Neurologist).(2005).  It is the final chapter of his book in which he takes a look at what brain scientists are doing and peeps into the future to see what kind of scenario may emerge in the next twenty or thirty years. What follows is taken largely from this "Afterword" of his book.

To Restak, while our brain has not changed in size for the last 200,000 years, genetic research has discovered in 2005 variants of two genes which control brain development which may enhance higher intelligence or quicker thinking. That means we have not yet reached the final stage of brain development. There is still room for change of the human brain. But more importantly, we now know that culture exerts a more powerful influence on our intellectual and emotional development than strictly biological factors. The average IQ has climbed 24 points since 1918 due possibly to healthier diet, better education and perhaps the feeding of higher information content to our brain. Restak thinks the last the most crucial. Because of this, we can expect the rate of technological innovation to accelerate. According to Ray Kurzweil, writing in The Singularity is Near: When Humans Transcends Biology, we may experience 20,000 years of progress (measured by the rate of progress in 2000) or about 1000 times that in 20th century!He further predicts that by "the 2030s, the non-biological portion of our intelligence such as computers and prosthetic devices will predominate. By the 2040s, it will be billions of times more capable than the biological protion." That awaits to be seen.

In the meantime, we do know that the revolution in information technology is already radically affecting the way we live our lives. I cannot now imagine life without the internet with which I just communicated with my wife in America and my elder daughter in China and my younger daughter in Spain despite the tremendous geographical distances separating us. I can see them. They can see me. And we can talk through the computer screen and the mikes on the tiny video camera clipped to top of my computer screen! To Restak, this is already "altering our attitudes, our ways of relating to each other, the speed and cadence of our speech and even our attitude toward work and leisure.".

Another discovery by our brain scientists is that we now know that our brain cannot be understood by focusing on individuals because we are social creatures: we need to belong. Such a need is as basic as our need for food and for oxygen. Attachment and nurturing associations with other people have been crucial to our lives since birth and therefore we are acutely sensitive to each other's social signals and that is why exclusion, ridicule, separation, divorce, bereavement hurt so much and why attraction, altruism, identification, communication, compassion and co-operation between people are so important for our positive development.

We have now the kind of technology to tell us the chances of recovery of a patient and the likely consequences of a biological survival from brain scans. The question we ask is no longer whether "a patient is dead or alive" but "whether this life is worth living". This latter is a much more tricky question. We now know that even a vastly atrophied brain at birth does not necessarily mean that a meaningful life cannot be led. We now have evidence that an infant whose brain scan revealed that he merely had a thin line of consciousness which is tiny tiny fraction of what a "normal" child has finished high school, married, is now working as a bank teller and has children. We should never underestimate the ability of our "immature" brain to colonize other brain areas to serve equivalent functions performed by other sectors of a "normal" brain! What qualifies as an "abnormality" in a given scan may not be so if placed in the context of a different and vaster data base and if subjected to different statistical thresholds. "If the database or thresholds are altered, what initally appeared as an overly active area may fade into the general background of the image." Contexts is everything in an interpretation, in science as in art.

Whenever we try to link human traits and performances with specific locations within the brain, the context is extremely important. Douglas Hofstadter said in a symposium on the brain, "People yearn to find 'the' neural correlate of an emotion or even a creative thought. That hope seems about as silly as trying to find the key to the greatness of a novel by closely examining the typographical symbols that compose it.". Restak concludes that while brain science has much to contribute to our lives, "it cannot be allowed to define us.".

Will or can future generations be made smarter and more sociable? To Restak, to have better mental performance, we need to improve focus, concentration, memory and mental endurance. Focus and concentration help us remain centred on the task in hand and memory help us link our present to our past knowledge base whilst endurance enables us to maintain our performance through a longer period of time instead of being overly tired out and therefore lose concentration. Drugs available for enhancing these 4 functions have already been available for years e.g. amphetamine and such stimulants as Ritalin can enhance focus, concentration, memory and mental endurance but these are controlled drugs and can be prescribed for specific disorders as "attention deficit disorders" (ADD) and is addictive because of habituation, the patient requiring more and more as time goes on to achieve equivalent effect later. Yet they are now being increasingly prescribed for students. A survey at an Ivy Leaque college places the number of users at nearly 60%! Provigil (modafinil) is now routinely used by business people, entertainers, military personnel and others to remain fully awake for long periods and sometimes for days at times. This drug was originally developed for the irresistible drowsiness of narcolepsy and shift-work-induced drowsiness. Should these drugs be controlled?  Certainly, those taking them will be placed at an unfair advantage against those who don't when all of them have to undergo certain stringent competitive tests, exams etc requiring prolonged periods of high concentration in the same way that steroid is banned for Olympic athletes. There is little doubt that mood altering drugs help relieve the symptoms of grief, fatigue, lack of focus, mood variation, forgetfulness, distraction and other "unproductive" mental states.  Yet many people are now using these drugs , not to treat specific disorders but merely as "life-style" and "personality-changing" purposes. Some people think there is no problem. They think of "cognitive enhancers" as just a technical aid helping to improve learning ability "like providing a positive learning environment and practising good study habits" e.g bioethicist Thomas M Murray asks: " Is popping a pill a 'quick fix' instead of working toward improving cognitive ability through reading.?" If we cannot sleep, we take sleeping pills and in the morning, we take alertness enhancing drugs to bring us up to our "normal" acitivity pace. Should we undergo normal "grief" upon the death of someone dear to us? Or should we take a tranquilizer before the funeral and an anti-depressant during the period of bereavement in the weeks that follow?

We now know how to predict who is an introvert and who is an extrovert by performing fMRI upon various subjects: upon being shown a positive word, an extrovert's brain shows increased activation in the anterior cingulate,  as found by neuroscientist B W Hass of SUNY. He found that behaviorally, an extrovert tends to dwell longer on the positive and de-empahsize the negative in the same manner as positive neural messages stay longer in their anterior cingulate. That is why we enjoy their company. In the same manner, the more adept persons are in reading "social" clues, the less effort they need to activate their prefrontal cortex. We say that such people have high social intelligence. Brain scanning techniques are already being used by the American military in selecting their officers in their training of the Special Forces (SF) because they need officers who remain resilient under emotionally trying circumstances. When shown a series of faces displaying signs of fear and anger, the SF soldiers show heightened responses in the amygdala (closely associated with fear control and emotional arousal) and also increased activity in the anterior cingulate and inferior frontal cortex, both associated with emotional regulation. The scans therefore show that the SF soldiers show "normal" reaction to fear just like untrained volunteers, but they have better control of their fear "response". 

Brain research have also indicated that addiction to drugs, addiction to alcohol, addition to food, (leading to obesity) addiction to gambling, addiction to computer games may be treated as specific instances of a more general addiction involving both arousal and craving which can be measured and to the addiction for the release of dopamine (a brain-produced pleasure hormone)! Other research have indicated that we acitivate the same area of our brain when we attribute emotions to ourselves as those used when we attribute emotions to others. We have what has been called "mirror cells" which may be the physiological basis for the Confucian "empathy/compassion" and  the Christian "love". As I previously argued, this may be the ultimate biological basis for the development of the kind of altruism advocated by the various religions. 

As our knowledge of the functioning of our brain advances with our brain scanning technology and the development of newer and newer mood altering drugs, the question of their use and control becomes all the more urgent. To Restak, our challenge is this: "we can employ this emerging new knowledge about social neuroscience to advance human freedom within the neurosciety or we can allow irresponsible people to use this knowledge in ways that are not always to our advantage" eg. in advertisements, pop culture, political spin, movies and television. As always, scientific knowledge is always neutral. It really depends on ourselves whether we wish to apply our knowlege for good or for evil. That is a question which science cannot answer for us.

2010年6月22日 星期二

Why, when and what to Believe?

As long as we live, we have to believe in something or other. Yet hardly a day passes by without our witnessing ourselves disagreeing with our fellow men on one issue or another. John may think the movie Entering The Void so exciting that he won't hesitate to rush off to buy a ticket to see it again. Mary may say she can't wait for it to end because it is so violent and its depiction of sex is so explicit. Some will say we must have universal suffrage now. Others think we should do so step by step. Some think a compromise acceptable. Others think it is not. Who is right? Who is wrong? Who should we believe? And why?  Why do we believe what we believe? How should we make up our mind when our beliefs conflict with the beliefs of our fellow human being? What advice can our philosophers offer us in that regard? I turn to "Deciding What to Believe" in The Undercover Philosopher by Michael Philips (2008)

Philips says that in general, a healthy dollop of skepticism makes sense but the question is how much is enough? In relation to what? "We don't want to escape the grip of failed authority only to rush headlong into the arms of cynics or cranks, " he says. But does that mean we can have no guidelines?

His first guideline is that we should doubt authoritative sources with strong track records only when we have good reasons to. So, what are good reasons? He suggests nine prima facie possibilities. We should doubt a conclusion of an authoritative source if::

1.  we are directly competent to evaluate the arguments, evidence, methods and assumptions that generate the conclusion;

2.  the relevant conclusion conflicts with the conclusion with another trusted source;

3. we have doubts upon the competence of the people who drew the relevant conclusions;

4. we have reasons to question the honesty of those who proffer to us the relevant conclusion;

5. we have reasons to doubt the objectivity or the point of view of those who arrive at the relevant conclusions;.

6. the relevant conclusion conflicts with common sense;.

7. the relevant conclusion conflicts with our personal experience;

8. the relevant conclusion conflicts with our intuitive judgement; and

9. the conclusion conflicts with our faith.

Often, we are not competent to evaluate the relevant original evidence relating to an issue because we simply do not have the necessary expert knowledge and are forced to rely on the judgement of the experts. But sometimes, the opinions of the experts in the same field may differ and at other times, the opinion of the expert of one field may be contradicted by the conclusions on the same set of facts by an expert in a different field e.g. the difference in viewpoints of the clinical psychologists and those of the research psychologists on the issue of "recovered memory". Often, we may have reason to doubt the so-called "expert" status of the holder of the relevant opinion e.g a general practitioner's opinion on that of the specialist, the quality of the opinion of a journalist who has not been trained in the relevant science upon various "science" topics . In addition, it is possible that the data may have been faked, and the conclusions spunned. If the opinion of two claimed experts differ, we must ask who has more motive to lie and who has the most effective safeguard against lying: e.g. is the conclusion that certain drugs are helpful in a research study the result of a research institution sponsored by a drug company? Do the researchers have a stake in the outcome of the research?

The history of science has taught us how sometimes, our common sense may seem incompetent to judge the results of the relevant scientific research (the flat earth theory which had been held for thousands of years, the difficulties faced by Copernicus and Galileo's heliocentric theory). But common sense may have a stronger claim to our belief in sociological or psychological matters. If the conclusions do not square with our own experience, we should always ask ourselves whether or not our own conclusions have been skewed by our perception, memory or prior thinking. In the case of medicine, we may certainly trust our own subjective feelings on whether we have or have not improved after taking certain medicines, irrespective of whether the results may or may not be properly attributable to merely a "placebo effect". But when the result conflict with our intuitive judgement, we should again be alert to the possibility that our beliefs may be based on inaccurate background information, theories, beliefs or assumptions or unreliable heuristics and the possibility that our conclusions may be colored by our own subjective hopes, fears, moods and emotions. We should especially be careful if the conclusions of scientific experts based on fact-based evidence conflict with those of our own faith-based beliefs, which are often beliefs without evidence. We should therefore doubt the conclusions of certain spiritualists, psychics, crystal-healers, cultists etc.

Should we subject all our beliefs to close examinations and reject all but those found to be based on sufficient evidence? Whilst theoretically, this should be done, in practice, it is impossible because even if we have the necessary expert knowledge, we may not have the time eg. so called "historical truths"! In fact, in daily lives, we rely on our beliefs on the effects of taking various  medicines, certain foods, certain beliefs in our child-rearing practice, social interaction, the meaning of certain words, education, ethics, finances etc. without any serious reflection or any real investigation into the basis of our beliefs. But we should always keep in mind the possibilities of error in our judgement because our thinking might be affected by our subjective desire, wishes and prejudices.

How much time we spend on researching and reflecting a decision depend on whether or not there is a deadline by which we must act one way or another. Generally, the more urgent it is, the lower should be our requirement for careful research. Another criteria is the importance of the effect of our decision: the more seriously it may affect our lives or the lives of others, the more time we should spend on doing the relevant researches and examining the relevant evidence before arriving at our decision.

Do we always want the truth? In practice, we think of nothing of shading, spinning and often may even utterly forsake the truth if doing so may help us to avoid hurting someone near and dear to us (lover's talk). Many of us may even admire people who deliberately "misrepresent" the truth for us e.g artists, actors, ad writers. Here the criteria is harm. We should always ask ourselves the question: how much harm would be done to ourselves or to others if we choose to believe what we want to believe and act thereon and if there is some good in so believing and acting, we must ask oursleves how the good balances out the harm. In this respect, a principle of proximity may be helpful such that generally we should give more weight to the interest of our family, friends, neighbors than strangers, fellow citizens and unknown people in distant lands in the order of their emotional, social or geographical distance from us. But even here, there should be an exception .If the principle is important or the harm great, then we should give more weight even to the interest of people living very far from our town, region or country eg. in issues relating to war, climate change, ecological degradation which may affect the lives of billions of people and spend more  time on ensuring that our views are justified.. 

In the end, how much justification we need for our beliefs will depend on personal factors like our subjective needs, interests, passions and responsibilities. We invest as much time into justifying our beliefs as that may contribute to our well-being. But as far as the others are concerned, the more the accuracy of our belief and our conduct based thereon may affect others, the more time we should invest thereto. Even though we may sometimes act on beliefs without any good evidence ( e.g certain religious beliefs) because we simply do not have sufficient time, nor the need, nor the capacity to investigate every one of our beliefs, we should do so only subject to the principle that our belief does not result in any significant harm to the others. There is always a price to be paid for being a whistle-blower in exposing the lack of justification of the beliefs of many of the people we meet in life, including those who wield great power over our lives. If we insist on being a Socrates, we must be prepared to pay for so insisting. Socrates had to end his life with hemlock because he insisted on speaking what he thought was the truth!

2010年6月21日 星期一

Masaaki Suzuki, Barnabas Helemen with the HKPO

Last week was unusual for three reasons. Not only did I have a mid-week break, I went to two concerts. The second concert took place at the City Hall on Saturday. This time, we had the HKPO again. It was a good concert but it could have been better. This was the consensus of all my friends. This was unusual too because the HKPO is my experience, an excellent orchestra. This time, it was  led by Masaaki Suzuki. I do not know if this drop in performance might or might not have anything to do with the fact that instead of having John Harding as its concertmaster, we had a new guest concertmaster Ryo Terakado. Our principal cellists Richard Bamping and Fang Xiaomu were also gone. One change is difficult enough for an orchcestra to adapt to in a short period of time, but two might simply be too much. I would imagine that inspiration by the concertmaster and/or the conductor is absolutely essential to the performance of an orchestra. Another possible reason might be lack of sufficient rehearsal time because of the mid-week break.

Whatever might have been the reason for this rare fall from its usual standards, we had a rather varied programme that evening. For the first part of the evening, we had Symphony No. 44 in E Minor of Haydn ( 'the Trauer")  and Mozart's Violin Concerto No.3 in G, k 216. The second part of the evening's programme was devoted entirely to Mendelssohn. We had his The Fair Melusina Op 32 and his Symphony No. 4 in A ("the Italian") Op. 90

Since not all the artists are familiar to the HK audience, I'll copy a few details from the Programme Notes. The new guest conductor Suzuki is a Bach and baroque music expert. He trained as an organist and harpischordist. He graduated at the Tokyo U of Fine Arts and Music with a degree in composition and organ performance, then studied the two instruments at the Sweelinck Conservatory, Amsterdam, is now teaching at the Tokyo University of the Arts and is visiting professor of choral conducting at the Yale School of Music and Yale Institute of Sacred Music and conductor of the Yale Schola Cantroum and was awarded the The Knight's Cross of the Order of Merits by the Federal Republic of Germany in 2001.  In 1990, he founded the Bach Collegium Japan in 1990 and worked regularly with the Collegium Vocale Gent and the Freiburger Baroorchester, had recorded Bach's complete harpischord works and other choral and sacred cantatas for the BIS label having completed 40 volumes of them with the Bach Collegium Japan. 

Susuki's concertmaster Ryo Terakado was born in Santa Cruz, Bolivia, won 2nd prize in the all Japan Youth Musical Competition at 14, studied the violin, chamber music and conducting at the Toho Gakuen School of Music, was concertmaster of the Tokyo Philharmonic for 2 years, then studied barqoue violin at the Royal Conservatory in Hague and founded the Tokyo Baroque Trio (now called the Tokyo Barqoue) in 1987 with Christophe Rousset (harpichord) now substituted by Siebe Henstra  and Kaori Uemura (Viola de Gamba).  He taught the barqoue violin at the Paris Conservatory 1900-1992 and since 1991 at the Hague Royal Conservatory and has been a specially appointed professor at the Toho Gakuen School of Music since 2007. He is now concertmaster of La Petite Bande and Bach Collegium Japan.

Our violin soloist of the evening Barnabás Kelemen was born in 1978 in Budapest, entered the Franz Liszt Music Academy at 11, won lst prize at the International Violin Competition Indianapolis 2002 and was awarded the Sándor Végh Prize in 2001, Franz Liszt Prize in 2003 and the Rozsavolgyi Prize in 2003 and since 2005, has been professor at the Franz Liszt Music Academy at Budapest. He has appeared with such conductors as Maazel, Marriner, Janowski, Eotvos and Fishcher with such orchestras as the Royal Liverpool, Helsinki, Munich, Netherlands Radio Philharmonic orchestras and won a Diapason d'or for his recording of Brahm's Sonatas for Violin and Piano and the Grand Prix du Disque 2001 for his recordings of Liszt's complete works for violin and piano and had a DVD of the complete Violin Concerti of Mozart.

All the pieces played that evening were popular pieces. The first movement of the Hadyn's symphony was very lively, the second and third movements were a bit slow and sounded as if it were a courtly dance. It was so gentle and elegant as if one were seeing some 18th Century ladies, with their corsets, wigs, low cut, flowing dresses moving along in measured paces to the tune of the music on the polished dance floor under chandeliers in some German or French courts. But it came to a rousing ending in the last movement.

I like particularly Mendelssohn's Italian Symphony. It was so lively, especially the fourth and last movement which started at such a quick pace, with frequent calls and response from the horns and/or bassons and the orchestra.

The violin concerto by Kelemen whilst good, sounded a bit too stiff for me. Somehow, it didn't sound like Mozart. It seemed to lack that flow, that joy which one always finds in the music of Mozart. I do not know if it got anything to do with the fact that the soloist is a professor. He was dressed in a full swallow tail, wings and all and looked so formal. But I like the encore piece he played for us. I think it was one of Bach's Partitas. Perhaps the pressure of the concerto was gone and he could then play with relaxation and just played what he liked best. It was wonderful. Music is something very peculiar. So much depends on the state of mind of performer and the peculiar chemistry between him and the other musicians. Suzuki was good. He was completely dedicated. One could see that from the up and down motion of those beautifully silky and fine white hair which would fly up and down at the side of his head in perfect synchronization with the rhythm of the music but just a wee bit behind as he moved his head upon his narrow shoulders and tiny body, wrapped up within his taxedo. But as I said, the HKPO did not seem to be in top form and one could feel a certain lack of enthusiasm in its play. Not at all the HKPO that I knew. But from time to time, you do have to take some disappointment, I suppose. But could it be that we did not have a a baroque choir which Suzuki could use to display his unique talent? 

2010年6月20日 星期日

A Few Random Thoughts on Father's Day

I didn't realize it was Father's Day until I switched on the computer today. In fact, I read two blog pieces one yesterday and one this morning by fellow bloggers. One was rather sad. The other was much happier. But both touched in one way or another the question of our relations with our parents. This set off a chain of thoughts about my own mother and my father.

Although I had both father and mother when I was born, they remained little more than biological parents. For various reasons, my natural mother left me and my elder brothers and younger sister  when I was in primary 2. From then on, I never had a mother. She never returned nor saw us until I became a lawyer when, she suddenly telephoned me one day to claim her dues as my "mother" presumably under my obligations to her under the Confucian values of "filial piety". She died last year. But even before she left us, she had never been what I now know to be a true mother. I was left in the care of one after another of our "amahs" paid for by my father even during the times when she was living with us. I suppose that only reason why she got the right to claim her "dues" from me is that she had given me the greatest gift of all: life itself. I was inside her uterus for about 9 months. I cannot think of any other rational basis of her claim to my support. If one believed in the Hindu/Buddhst doctrine of "karmic debt", perhaps one could say that I owed it to her in my previous life for some favors or others she bestowed on me which I never repaid. If one believed in Buddhist dogma, then perhaps I might have benefitted enormously from the prayers she offered to the Buddha on my behalf without my knowledge, she being a very devout Buddhist. There is little doubt that I have so far been an extremely "lucky" guy. There is hardly a problem I have not been able to resolve one way or another, even the most difficult, albeit with some hiccups in some of the more difficult ones. 

My own father died more than 30 years ago. He was the only child in the family and had been spoiled by my paternal grandmother. He had a sharp mind. He made a lot of money when he was young. As with so many men, once he had got a bit of money, he fooled around with other women. I did not understand then. I do now. It was in fact the custom in those days. But custom or no custom, I only remember how I hated all those women he brought around to our house from time to time and whom we were asked to call "auntie" when I was a child. We were made to do errands for them! And one time, he even thought of taking one of them as his fourth concubine! All 5 of his children objected. He backed down.

I remember that for some reasons, when I was about 4 years old, when I was in my first year of kindergarten, we were suddenly made to leave the house where I was born and was made to move first to the ground floor of a newly built row of village houses in the Kowloon City area and then some two years later to a very dusty, dirty and noisy small attic the ground floor of which was a weaving factory whose looms seemed never to stop, producing the most annoying "clik-clak" sound when they hit each other in their endless operations. There I contracted jaundice , my mother had TB and I was infected by what was called "100-day cough" or "chicken cough". I remember having to take some very bitter Chinese herbalist medicine eveyday and some pig's liver soup which I hated and some honey with two types of ground almonds and lotus leaves which tasted alright. I had to quit school for about 5 months. I was fed by a very fat lady amah in her early 30s who came from the "4 counties" (四邑) speaking Mui county (梅縣) dialect. I still remember the smell of the oil which she used on her hair, which she would tie into a long pig tail behind her "sam-fu". During that time, my father took his second concubine, my step mother, his third wife from whom I had an additional younger sister. . 

At the time I quit primary 2 , I loved going to school because I was a darling of all my female teachers. When I first heard from my mother that I had to quit school, my little mind was filled with an unnameable panic. I cried and cried and cried. As a last resort, I asked to talk to the school principal, with tears all over my face and a nose made runny with them. She was tom-boy type woman, very tough. We were never allowed to enter her office without first having to go through her thin witch-like personal secretary with a long sharp face and an aguiline nose.  All the pupils were afraid of her because whenever we did not "behave", we would be asked into her room by her secretary and given the cane and a demerit. But she seemed to like me and from time to time, for some reasons which totally escaped me, she would ask me to go into that little hut at the back of the school, close to the sand playing pitch, which doubled up both as her living quarters and private office and there she would give me a candy or some wafers which I loved and sometimes a glass of milk. But upon hearing the news of my quitting school, I was so afraid I would never be able to go back to school again and since in my little mind, she was the most powerful figure at the whole school, I asked to speak to her in the hope that I would be permitted to go back with her assistance. It was then just after Christmas. She told me not to worry. I remember asking my mother many times after that when I could go back to school but she never gave me any definite reply. All she said was that I might be able to go back when I recovered from my long illness. To get back to school as quickly as possible, I braced myself to take those very bitter Chinese herbalist concoctions served to me as a thick black soup with some yellowish froth around the rim of the big china bowl. I got to take two of those everyday. I remember that whenever I thought about not being able to return to school, I sobbed, especially when I recalled the fun I had with my friends in school. I recall a glass cupboard in the one storey school hall where there were placed in several glass partitioning plates many beautiful plastic and metal toy soldiers, with tanks and electric trains and even a model fighter plane. I do not know how many hours of my recessses and my lunch hours before afternoon classes began were whiled away there with my face glued to the glass door to the cupboard. I would imagine all kinds of possible stories with the soldiers doing all kinds of exciting battles with each other, getting wounded but bravely fighting on and sometimes I would sketch them out on what was then called "writing pad paper" (柏紙簿). These were happy "dream times". Fortunately, when school resumed in September the same year, I was promoted to primary three despite not having taken any final examination and I was back in the house where I was born but by then, my mother had left. 

My father was a clever business man. But I do not think he knew the meaning of love. He only knew passions and drives. He was a driven man. He was driven by his instincts. Perhaps for him, love consisted of lust and money but to have love, one must have money, the same way that the letter "m " inevitably follows the letter "l" in the English aphabet.  I feel sorry for him. He did not know what he was doing and why he was doing what he was doing. This is what sparked my interest in philosophy when I was 16 when I bought my first book of philosophy at a second hand book store at the end of the street where I was then living with my father, then in vastly diminished circumstances. At that time, I already had to take up two private tuition jobs to supplement family income. Whilst my friends could stay on the football field or the ping pong table after school, I had to rush home one or twice a week to go to the market and prepare dinner for the whole family on days I did not need to give private lessons to primary school kids. I asked myself many questions about life. There were so many things I could not understand. In any event, I bought my first book of philosophy there. The book was Will Durant's "The Story of Philosophy". I bought that excellent book at the ridiculous price of HK1.00! The was the value of philosophy! Perhaps it hasn't appreciated much since then. But whatever the value of philosophy may be, I received the shock of my life after reading it. I was so surprised that none of the philosophers appeared to agree with any of the others on various topics like what is truth, what is good, what is beauty, what is the full extent of man's liberty, what is the best type of society that man can have etc. Each one of the philosophers seemed so persuasive and believable until you read the next! ( Sounds so remarkably like ladies' dresses, shoes, lovers!?)  I am still reading philosophy on my own, not that I believe that I would ever be able find out what the "true" answers to various questions should be but at least I need to find some justifications for "my" personal answers to those questions.

My reflections upon my emotionally distant relationships with my parents before I went to mass at the Cathedral today took a happier turn by an incident which occurred during the mass. There was a young couple sitting in the pew in front of me. They had a young kid. From her size and the fact that she was not yet able to say any word, I think she would be less than a year old. She was being held sometimes by her mother and sometimes by her father, her fat little head lying so comfortably against the head and neck of her parents. She had a chubby face, very big, round, lively and watery eyes.  She was constantly moving about out of curiosity. She wanted to explore the strange and mysterious world around her. Her eyes landed on mine. She held out her little chubby fingers to me, time and again. She was smiling at me and waving her fingers. I reached out my hand. She held it. She shook it a few times. She chuckled happily. I smiled back. Perhaps she was pleased that she succeeded in drawing my attention. Then she released my finger. She waved her fingers at me again. To attract me, she gave me another one of her sunny smiles. I reached out my finger to her again. She held it again, smiled, released it again and so on and so on. She was such a happy child. Her happiness was infectious. She is our hope. Her smile is the smile of Life. By her smile, she made me forget my previous disappointment with life. It was so innocent! It took so little. Just a few smiles! She has transported me away from my past. It was so quick. It happened at the speed of light! She brought me back to the present, instantly. And the present is so full of the sunshine of her smiles, the unalloyed glee of her chuckles, and the sparkle of trust in her big round eyes!

Concepts of Right and Wrong in Confucianism and Taoism

Friday was both hot and humid. Yet despite the sweat sticking stubbornly to my forehead, I went to the HKSHP talk that night. It was a talk by Dr. Chan Chi Kwan ( 陳志鈞), a retired professor of the College of Education. It was on a topic which interests me.  The topic was the concepts of right and wrong in Confucianism and Taoism.


According to Dr. Chan, to understand the details of a particular philosophy, it is necessary to tease out what its core concepts are and what they are not. Once this problem has been solved, a mass of apparently confusing details will fall naturally into place as merely different manifestations of the basic ideas in different contexts. To him, the core concept of Confucianim is the idea of Benevolence (仁) and the core concept of Taoism is of course the Tao (道). But the core concept of Tao is equally applicable to Confucianism, not just to Taoism only that in the case of Confucianism, the Tao has a slightly different emphasis. In fact, according to him, the core concepts of all religions bear remarkable similarities. There is something in what he said.


What is Tao? To Dr. Chan, Tao(道) is simply the Way. The highest Tao belongs to that relating to the universe ( 天道 ). When applied to its manifestation on the Earth (地) and to human society (人), it takes on a slightly different emphasis. To understand the Tao as a principle, we need to go back to the I-Ching (易經) which states that the basic principle of the universe is Yin and Yang (陰陽), whilst that of the Earthly Tao (地道) is softness and hardness (柔剛) and that of Man (人道) is Benevolence  and Justice (仁義) with the first of each pair being the more internal and more fundamental than the other.


To Dr. Chan, Confucius and Mencius had slightly different emphasis of the Human Tao.(人道).  To Confucius, Benevolence( 仁) is love (愛), self control and courtesy (克已復禮) whilst for Mencius it is Compassion/Sympathy/Empathy(惻隱之心),  a sense of shame (差惡之心), a sense of tolerance (辭讓之心) and a sense of right and wrong (是非之心). To Mencius, Benevolence arises from Compassion(惻隱之心, 仁之端也)  justice arises from a sense of shame ( 羞惡之心, 義之端也) and courtesy arises from a sense of tolerance (辭讓之心, 禮之端也) and wisdom arises from a sense of right and wrong (是非之心, 智之端也). These four senses can be likened to the 4 limbs of a person (人之有是四端, 猶其有四體也) [.孟子公孫丑上] Whilst benevolence is a matter of mind/heart (心), justice is a matter of conduct  (行) and practice (功夫). Everything boils down to the aim or purpose of having a clear or easy or light conscience (放心). Knowledge is a matter of knowing how to have a clear/easy/light/relaxed conscience (學問之道無他, 求其放心而已矣) [孟子告子上]. If we concentrate first on what is important or the core before the details, we may understand everything, but not if we do so in reverse order (本末倒置).  To Mencius, we are born with a sense of benevolence, justice, courtesy and wisdom, the latter not just being something which shines upon us from the outside( 仁義禮智, 非鑠於我也, 我固有之也 )[孟子告子下]. If  we examine our heart/mind closely, we shall discover our nature and if we know our nature, we would know the guideline of the universe.(盡其心者, 知其性也; 知其性, 則知天矣) [孟子告子下] To Confucius, the ideal man concerns himself with/understands or will listen to justice whilst the ordinary person is touched only by profit (君子喻於義, 小人喻於利)[論語: 裡仁] and in case of conflict between life and justice, justice should prevail.(ニ者不可得兼,舍身而取義者也) [孟子告子下].   To Luk Yau(陸游), the ideal man bases his reputation on his sense of justice and his shame upon on its lack.(君子以義為貨.. .由義為榮, 背義為辱)   Whether he got formal recognition in state exams and whether he obtained official positions in the government are matters of little consequences.(科甲名位, 何加損於我, 豈足言哉) (陸九淵與敦邦逸). Therefore, the highest ideal of the ideal man is to give up his life for benevolence and justice (殺身成仁. 舍身取義)


As far as practice is concerned, the highest Confucian principles are those of forgiveness/largess( 恕) ie. never do under unto others what we would not others do unto us (已所不欲, 勿施於人)[衛靈公];  of benevolence or love (仁); of wisdom or understanding others (智) and to help others as we help ourselves, to help others achieve what we ourselves wish to achieve (已欲立而立人, 已欲達而達人[論語, 雍也]. Mencius posits three stages in development toward the attainment of one's ideal in the order " to understand, to practice and not to be tempted"(知言, 養氣, 不動心). But all practices start from understanding ourselves, from achieving control of ourselves: trying to observe and discover the principles of how things work ( 格物致知)with honesty (誠意) and right kind of attitude(正心) and progresses from self-control to management of our family and then our nation and then the entire world(修身, 齊家, 冶國. 平天下) . Another technique/way is to forget ourselves (忘我) and start to work from ourselves outward, (推已及人) to always remember our nature, our origin, our initial aim (返本) (君子務本),  then put into practice what we have learned (致用) and to internalize rules of courtesy to attain virtue(成德) But our foci should also vary with the passage of our life: when we are young, we should control our lust (少年戒色), when we are mature we should control our aggression(壯年戒鬥), , and when are old, we should control our desire for acheivement or holding on to possessions (老年戒得) Confucius said that he devoted himself to studies at 15, established himself at 30, achieved resistance to temptation at 40, knew his fate at 50 and attained the ability to accept others at 60 and the ability to follow his wishes at 70 without breaching the relevant rules. (十五志於學, 三十而立, 四十而不惑, 五十而知天命, 六十而耳順, 七十而從心所欲, 不逾矩) [論語, 為政第二] Presumably, he would think that we could model ourselves upon him!


Dr. Chan says that personally, he is more inclined towards the idea of Taoism as being deeper and more inclusive. That's hardly surprrising. Which thinking Chinese isn't? The starting point is Tao (道) but Tao is invisible and unspeakable (道可道, 非常道) and when the Tao operates in life, it starts with a unity (道生一) and then breaks into two (一生ニ), the negative and the positive(陰陽), two gives birth to three, an additional life, and three gives birth to everything else (三生萬物) (Cap 25 LaoTzu (LT) ) but everything starts with the negative before it turns to the positive  but once they mix and merge with each other, they produce harmony.(萬物負陰而抱陽, 冲氣以為和) (cap 25 LT). To know is to know that harmony is the rule (知和曰常) and to always return to the point of origin (復命曰常 (cap 16 LT) It is found that everything always returns to its opposite and its  roots, its origin in cycles, that going back to the roots means to return to the condition of silence, returning to the source of life from which we can discover the law of life. To understand this is to be enlightened .(夫物芸芸, 各復歸其根, 歸根曰靜, 靜曰復命, 復命曰常,知常曰明). To Laotzu, the Tao constantly works in cylces, always works to return to its origin and the origin is always silence, lack of motion, emptiness, nothingness (致虛極, 守靜篤). (cap 16 LT). If we know the way of the Tao, we will be more tolerant, more fair, more just, more whole, more conforming to the way of the universe, the way of the Tao/the Way. Therefore, if we follow the Way, we will survive longer without danger. (容乃公, 公乃全, 全乃天, 天乃道, 道乃久, 沒身不殆)(Cap 16 LT) The Tao existed before  the birth of the universe, creating itself from a state of confusion, from chaos. It is silent, invisible, without form. It is independent, self-created, self-running, unalterable, goes round ceaselessly in circles. It can be treated as the mother/creator of heaven and earth. Its name is unknown and may be called the Tao. The Tao may reluctantly be called great. it runs far, and returns upon itself. Man fashions himself after the earth, the earth fashions itself after the heavens, and the heavens fashion themselves upon the Tao and the Tao fashions itself after Nature. And if we follow the Way, we may be as great as Nature. (有物混成, 先天地生,寂兮寥兮, 獨立而不改, 周行而不殆.可以為天下母, 吾不知其名, 字之日道.强為之名曰大. 大曰逝, 逝曰遠, 遠曰反。故道大, 天大, 地大, 人亦大..人法地, 地法天, 天法道, 道法自然) (cap 25 LT).


To Dr. Chan, the whole point of Laotzu's philosophy is to discover some laws which operate universally, which reach to the furthermost root or bottom of the universe, some rules or laws or other principles which operate always, forever (深根固抵, 長生久視之道). To him the way to deal with people and to serve heaven is to economise, to use the least, the minimum and not to waste. (人事天, 莫若嗇) The reason for this is that only then will we be conforming early to the way of the Tao (夫唯嗇, 是以早服), to emphasize on building up good works. If we build up good works, there is nothing we cannot overcome. (早服謂之重積德, 重積德則無不克。) If we can overcome everything, then we would be placed into a state where there is little limit of what we can do  and if so, we may use this to rule a nation (無不克則莫知其極, 莫知其極, 可以有國). (Cap 59 LT) Like the Buddhist, Laotzu advocates not pushing thing, not getting attached to things because the more we push, the more we will meet with resitance and will fail and the more attached to an idea we become, the more we will meet with failure. Therefore the wise man will do little and will get attached to little (是以聖人無為故無敗, 無執故無失) and will seldom desire what the others desire, treasure what is scarce and will work to assist the others to go their own way and not dare to act positively on his own. ( 是以聖人欲不欲, 不貴難得之貨...以輔萬物之自然而不敢為). Laotzu advises us to always take the low, the smallpositions, to always go down, to adapt to the environment, like water i.e. to do good( 善). The exemplar of the best kind of good is water. By learning how water behaves, we know how to behave. He says that the water works to benefit others, not fight with them. Like water, we should place ourselves at the lowest, assume the shape of our environment containing us, the kind of positions shunned by the others, and go down as deeply as we can so as to avoid conflicting with others. (上善若水, 水利萬物而不爭, 處眾人之所惡, 故幾於道.) He thinks that we should keep our heart low and deep, be generous when we give, be honest when we talk, adjust others with order and work with actual ability and do what we can and choose well the best time to act. ( 心善淵, 與善仁, 言善信, 正善治, 事善能, 動善時) (cap 8 LT) He urges us to adopt the soft approach and move silently, without too much noise, too many words. Only then will we be able to roam the universe and move over the toughest terrain and enter its tiniest crevices and likewise when we teach, we teach by our examples not by our words and we then benefit the others by not doing. If so, there will be few who can match us. (天下之至柔, 馳騁天下之至堅, 無有入無間...不言之教, 無為之益, 天下希及之).. The key to Laotzu's thought about application of the Tao is the word "Return/Restoration" (反) which has two meanings, to return to the origin and to reverse position or direction. (反者道之動,  弱者道之用) (cap 40 LT) He urges us to start working where nothing has been yet been done, taste where there is little taste, tackle the difficult by starting with those parts of it which can easily be dealt with, to start with the small detail and what is easiest. (為無為, 事無事, 味無味. 圖難於其易, 為大於其細.). To him LaoTzu teaches us the following stragegy: to go in the opposite direction, to start before something begins, never to place oneself at a place where one cannot go anywhere and to move according to the circusmtances of time, place and people. (以反為用, 謀於未兆, 不蹈死地, 因勢而動)


To Dr. Chan, we may undersand ChuangTsu's philosophy through understanding three concepts : the True (真), the Transformaion (化) and Forgetfulness (忘). Whilst Laotzu is more objective. Chuangtze is more subjective. To him, you first need to have a man who know the truth.(先有真人而後有真知) (大宗師). It is not sufficient to have knowledge of the truth, we must live it. Transformation (化) means to overcome our limitation i e. our body, the boundary between self and the world and the self and other selves. We must transcend the material and enter the realm of the spiritual and we must forget words, forget our body, forget benevolence and justice, forget about the code of courtesy and the code of music, forget life and death, forget about the universe a(忘言, 忘身, 忘仁義, 忘禮樂, 忘生死, 忘天下,) and like Pao Ting (庖丁) and transcend the boundaries of the senses (官知止而神欲行).


Whatever Dr Chan may have taught us during the talk, I don't think that he has addressed the problem of what is right and what is wrong in the moral context.  All he appeared to have done is to introduce to us a few key concepts relating to what the Confucianists and what the Taoists regard as important. Neither has he placed the thoughts of Confucius, Mencius, Laotzu and ChuangTzu into the kind of philosophical framework the modern man is accustomed to ie. the polarities of subjective/objective, self /the world, the genetical/the cultural, the physical /the psychological, reason/ emotions, the political relationship between man and society  etc. In particular, it appears to me that he has failed to place the thoughts of the various philosophers in the contexts of contemporary moral theory of what is right and what is wrong. I suppose that he may say that we may derive our ideas of what is right and what is wrong in particular  contexts  from the basic or core principles that he elaborated for us ie. what is right is what conforms to the way of the Tao and what is wrong is to do the contrary. Perhaps he has taught us by not teaching us! To me, the great religions have all taught the same basic principles which could form the basis of what is right and what is wrong. The Christian will say that the greatest principle is the principle of love taught by Jesus: that we should do unto others what we would that others do unto us but they would say that the reason why we should do that is that that is the will of the creator of the universe and that it is his will that we should follow this principle of love. The Buddhists would say that the way to the elimination of suffering, the way to the interruption of the endless cycles of the reincarnation into various forms of life ie.the attainment of buddhahood (  attaining nirvana) is to realize and to put into practice the insight that ultimately what we see, hear, taste, smell, touch, feel, think are merely forms shaped by chance and the accidental co-origination of  different causes with no permanent or eternal reality in any of them and that what is right is to follow such the insights provided by this realization. The Confucianists would argue that what is right is to follow our human nature at the core of which is the principle of compassion/sympathy/empathy for other human beings in a hiearchical order stretching from the humblest citizen to the Emperor/ruler. What the Taoist would argue is that we should follow the way of the Tao ie. to do what is natural and avoid what is not natural!