Trying not to Try

30 Jul 2022 11:48 - 22 Oct 2023 07:18
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    • book by Edward Slingerland. An examination of Wu Wei, contextualizing it within the space of Chinese philosophy (Confucianism, Moism as well as Taoism) and connecting it to neuroscience concepts, specifically the distinction between hot and cold cognition, aka System 1/2.
    • de as a sort of charisma exuded by people who have authentic wu-wei.
    • The point of Confucian study is to train the hot-cognition parts of the brain, so one can be effortlessly correct. It's a lot of work to reach that state, that's the basic contradiction of the title.
    • He expresses some mild disdain for theories of flow. Flow to him is too individualistic, too based on learning a skill, its a concept for high-performance yuppies, wu-wei is deeper than that.
    • de is a hard-to-fake social signal. Fake smiles look very different from authentic ones. Humans are good liars but also very good at detecting fakery. Note his later book Drunk makes a similar point – alcohol is part of social rituals because it interferes with cold cognition, makes people rely on hot (authentic) brain, and so promotes social trust.
    • Despite all the cultural conservatism, then, the Confucian view of civilized life is, in the end, optimistic. Sigmund Freud, to take a prominent Western counterexample, saw the tension between hot and cold cognition as the ineradicable tragedy at the heart of modern life. We were miserable in the state of nature because a world where everyone alliowed their id—their hot cognition—to run wild would be chaotic, capricious, and brutish...A civilized life is better for everyone overall, but it also exacts a cost: everyone is required to either rpress or sublimate a large portion of their instinctual drives and to live under the iron rule of cold cognition. The result is a state of what Freud calls Unbehagen, which is usually translated as "discontent" or "dissatisfaction" [as in Civilization and its Discontents, aka Das Unbehagen in Kultur] but also includes a sense of physical unease (p76)
    • A reference to Robert Frank's The Strategic Role of the Emotions which I should read. (p176, context is that cooperation requires irrationality and emotions may be seen as being in service to that).
    • Political relationships, on the other hand, are problematic because they are not by nature wu-wei—the innate hot cognition of a minister does not incline him to trust or obey or love his political superior—but they need to be wu-wei* in order to work properly...."If you try to be filial, this is not true filiality; if you try to be obedient, this is not true obedience. You cannot try, but you also cannot not try; trying is wrong, but not trying is wrong" (quotes are from "the Guodian texts").
      • I'm skeptical of this; I think all human interaction is marked by this sort of self-consciousness. At least in this age, when Awkwardness reigns.