July 12, 2012
Tchouang Tseu was wandering the northern steppes when he met a shaman on the roadside. The gaunt stranger claimed she could exit her body and explore the spiritual worlds where she accomplished great feats of magic. But the portly scholar was tired and in a bad mood, so he retorted: What if, in fact, you’ve never gotten any further than the walls of your tricky mind? Stunned, the shaman spun around and sloughed the rude man off without another word.
A few years later Tchouang Tseu was again exiled to the same remote desert and happened once more upon the scraggly old woman. This time the shaman claimed she had duly inspected every recess of her mind and learned to control its every movement. But Tchouang Tseu, still hungry and indisposed, shrugged his shoulders and answered: What if you’ve been tricked again, and all this time you’ve only been exploring the faint illusion of your mind? Shocked at the not-so-polite comeback, the shaman turned away in disgust for the second time.
Many years later Tchouang Tseu was snoring through the night in his pavilion when the shaman entered his dream from the north and said: Thank you for being such an ass, sir: your importunate drivel about minds was a most helpful prison from which i have just now escaped!
February 29, 2012
The great philosohper Averroes wanted to convince a friend that everyone shared the same mind:
Averroes: How did you learn all the words you know?
Friend: From my parents and other adults.
Averroes: And who taught you how to use those words to think?
Friend: My teachers taught me at school.
Averroes: And did they teach you to think for yourself?
Averroes: So even your ability to find contradictions and errors in your teachers’ and others’ statements, your ability to think on your own, came from those same teachers?
Averroes: And the very idea that you should try to think for yourself, your desire to do so, someone else planted it in you, didn’t they?
Friend: I suppose they did. But surely i’ve heard a bird or witnessed some random event that caused me to think a novel thought!
Averroes: Where did your idea of a bird come from? What concepts did you use to interpret what you witnessed? What made you think either of these events were important enough to notice in the first place?
Friend: Be that as it may, surely i can alter the direction in which my thoughts are going! I can decide to think about this rather than that.
Averroes: But how would you choose this new direction for your thoughts? Would you not reason with yourself as your teachers taught you to do, using their words and their arguments, starting from their premises?
Friend: So do i control no part of my mind at all?
Averroes: Whence this idea that you should control your mind?
Friend: This is madness!
Averroes: No — it is our shared mind slowly understanding itself.