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C. Ingram

Thinking About Thinking

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Have you ever taken a particular sentence, thought, paragraph, and read if forwards and then the other way around? 

 

Let me show you what I mean, take this passage from James Legge's translation of the Tao Te Ching:

 

The multitude of men look satisfied and pleased; as if enjoying a 
full banquet, as if mounted on a tower in spring. I alone seem 
listless and still, my desires having as yet given no indication of 
their presence. I am like an infant which has not yet smiled. I look 
dejected and forlorn, as if I had no home to go to. The multitude of 
men all have enough and to spare. I alone seem to have lost 
everything. My mind is that of a stupid man; I am in a state of 
chaos.
 
The author seems down on himself, depressed by something. That's reading it forward. Now read it with the thought that the author isn't sad, he's triumphant. I alone seem listless and still! My desires having as yet given no indication of their presence! I win!
 
Now with that reading in mind, think about what the author might be thinking -- why would it be good to be in a state of chaos? For simplicity's sake, think about how this might apply in relationships. Things are chaotic when we don't have established "lines". So, if I call you my friend, then I have immediately established lines -- you are my friend someone else isn't. If I call you my neighbor, I have established that someone else isn't. To quote Friedrich Nietzsche "The one goeth to his neighbour because he seeketh himself, and the other because he would fain lose himself. Your bad love to yourselves maketh solitude a prison to you.
The furthest ones are they who pay for your love to the near ones; and when there are but five of you together, a sixth must always die." Chaos can be thought of as a rejection of the desire to be in a comfortable clique.
 
On a different, perhaps deeper level, Chaos is thought to refer to a state of mind, a mindset of taking-in-everything-focusing-on-nothing. But that's a complex topic for a different time. 
 
This forwards-backwards motion is not necessarily good for providing a solid historical interpretation of a particular text, though in the case of the Tao te Ching it most likely is how the text should be read, but it can be a good practice for exploring heretofore uninvestigated interpretations in your own inspirational reading.
 
Take another passage, this time from Ecclesiastes:
 
"'Vanity of vanities,' saith Ecclesiastes, 'Vanity of vanities, all is vanity.'" Suppose that this was triumphant not pessimistic? Why might it be a good thing that life is meaningless?
 
 
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Gosh, I haven't posted anything serious in a while. Hi, new people! Please don't be intimidated! 

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I really like that first poem /paragraph you posted. It's interesting like you said how he presents a depressed tone, but it can be seen by a different perspective. 

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